I’ve finished reading the book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” by Karyl McBride, Ph.D. and the last few sections of the book were about looking at yourself and seeing if you can identify narcissistic characteristics in yourself. One subsection of this part of the book was titled “You and Your Friends”. The author shared the following:
“Choosing and keeping cherished friends can be a challenge for daughters of narcissistic mothers, …”
“Reciprocity is essential to a healthy friendship. There has to be a give-and-take just like in love relationships. this give-and-take does not have to always be at the same moment, but in general there should be a balance. If one friend is always the giver and one friend is always the taker, the relationship is either dependent or codependent. If you happen to be going through a time when you know you cannot be reciprocal due to some life crisis or big project in which you are involved, let your firends know this. Don’t be unfair to yourself and to them and give anyway if you are being drained by your own crisis – inform them and reassure them that you will be back to reciprocating when your crisis is over. The high-achieving daughters have the most difficulty with this, because they are used to being very busy and sometimes do not know how to handle this. They give up friendships because they feel too guilty at not being able to give all the time. This is not necesssary with good friends.”
“Setting boundaries when hurtful things are said to you is important as well. To maintain an authentic friendship, you have to be able to respond to an offensive statement or action with, “That was hurtful to me.” Or, “I would be more comfortable if you did not talk about this or do this right now.”
Most daughters of narcissistic mothers report that they have difficulty with female friendships. The reason most cited is that women friends are more emotionally draining and have too many unrealistic expectations of the friendship. I believe this reaction to female friends is a carryover from the narcissistic mother who was entitled, needy, and demanding so much of the time.”
“You may not be communicating well enough for the friend to understand your own needs and boundaries, or you may be choosing friends who are similar to your mother. In the latter case, you may need to start exploring new friendships with women who are emotionally strong and whose interests are similar to yours. Find women friends who can add to your life, rather than drain you.”
“Too often daughters complain that other women are competitive and jealous, which may be a flashback to their childhood. Make sure that those friendships are not simply triggering an internal collapse before you write them off. But if the women are competitive and jealous – narcissistic – avoid them if possible.”
This part of the book really struck me. I have a lot of issues with many of the things in this section. As I was reading it and then thinking about it afterward I realized I feel the way the author indicated many daughters of narcissistic mothers feel.
Most of my relationships with other women tend to be very one sided. They tend to be very needy women, women who have relationship problems, self-esteem issues, require a lot of encouragement and support. I have a lot of problems with other women expressing that they feel they ‘can’t compete’ with me, that they wish they had some of the things and experiences I have had.
I never realized my female relationships are so much like my relationship with my mother. I have puzzled for decades as to why I seem to have these wonderful relationships, where I feel needed and important to someone only when they are having problems, but every relationship seems to fail as soon as they get on their feet or start feeling better, when things start to improve for them.
My best friend for 4 years was a woman I worked with who was going through a difficult divorce, having to sell her house and move her three children into a new home. We had lunch together every day of the work week, we went shopping together with our children, we talked on the phone every day, did things together like one big family, I helped her move into her new home, but as soon as she was moved and settled and her immediate needs were met she pulled away, dramatically reduced our time together and finally ended the friendship after I pointed out to her that she wasn’t there when I needed her.
A close friend for some 8 years had been a woman I had also worked with, who left our place of employment and took a job that required her to do a lot of computer work she didn’t understand. She called me multiple times a day, multiple days a week, asking me to ‘walk her through’ her computer tasks. She told me her job depended on her putting together a power point presentation and asked that I do it for her. I did do it for her, as well as a number of other tasks that were required for her to keep her position. Once these requirements were met and her job was no longer jeopardized she stopped calling, wasn’t available for me when I needed someone to talk to, effectively ended the friendship, reducing it to something that more accurately resembled an acquaintance.
Possibly the worst such ‘friendship’ I’ve had is one that has started and stopped, ebbed and waned over the course of the last 34 years. This person seeks me out when she is experiencing a set back in her life, whether at work, in her home life, with her family or emotionally. She’s lost a number of jobs, is divorced, has a difficult relationship with her family of origin and a continual struggle with her only child who is now 25 years of age. When things look up for her she disappears from the ‘friendship’ for months at a time, but when she’s feeling insecure or particularly needy she shows up at my door. I provide transportation for her so she can get groceries, pick up her medication, allow her to bring her laundry to my home, etc.
Even my relationship with my sister-in-law fits this theory. It was very one sided, I was offering to do more and more for her, hoping to gain her acceptance, avoid rejection and be ‘validated’. She pointed out over and over how I was better at certain things than her, had a better relationship with her daughter than she did, had a successful marriage and she was on her third marriage… there was always a competitiveness to her observations and comparisons. She was never available to listen to me, to be supportive of me, to do something for me.
There have been many others… I never realized they displayed similar characteristics to my mother, but I certainly do now.
My psychologist had told me, years ago, that my self-esteem was tied to what I was able to do for other people. Because doing things for other people felt right, gave me a sense of satisfaction and had been a requirement to prevent punishment from my mother, I had been conditioned to equate my sense of self, sense of value and worth, sense of ‘security’, with what I could do for others.
Tonight, I understand that I was making a choice to do things for others for somewhat selfish reasons – to feel better about myself, I wouldn’t speak up about my own needs to avoid rejection (which I ultimately experienced anyway) and to feel I had value,… and I had surrounded myself with women friends who perpetuated the relationship I had with my mother, the relationship I thought I had ended and distanced myself from, therefore continuing the cycle of abuse that began with my mother. I hadn’t consciously done this… if I had better understood, been able to see these relationships objectively, I wouldn’t have wanted to engage in these relationships.
Having perpetuated the emotional abuse of my relationship with my mother, it is no wonder I have never been able to stop the ‘old tapes’, as their messages were being ‘reaffirmed’ in ‘real time’, through these failed friendships, one after another.
Even though these relationships were difficult, painful and draining, the dynamic was ‘comfortable’, known and had become somewhat ‘expected.’
Once again, as this book has often brought me to do, I have a lot of ‘re-evaluating’ to do in regard to how and with whom I’m expending so much of my energy and emotion.
Though I have finished reading this book, I think there is yet one more blog to come in reference to reflection and self evaluation.