Narcissistic mothering is not a happy subject. But sometimes we need to call it out, label it, protect our daughter-selves from narcissistic influence, so we can let it go and move forward into the beauty that lies ahead.
When your mother thinks you’re her . . .
When your mother sees you as all the negative parts of herself, you get criticized for things that, (a) are not under your direct control, (b) are inherently normal, or (c) are completely fabricated and have nothing to do with who you really are. A narcissistic mother wounds you by refusing to see you. So you grow up thinking you’re either really bad – or invisible – or both, an ugly double-bind that paralyzes your creativity and passion.
I’m immoral and wrong . . . so I better be careful not to reveal this awful person inside (who my friends like).
I’m selfish and ungrateful because I don’t visit or call enough . . . so I better see/call her and allow her to criticize me (even though I’d rather have a hot stick in the eye).
I’m arrogant because I want good things . . . so I should tamp down my desires (while we’re at it, I should join a convent).
I’m lazy because I don’t do what she does . . . so I should try to be more like her (even though I have no desire to be like her).
I’m not the daughter she wanted . . . so why does she want me around (oh yeah, to criticize)?
On the other hand, a narcissistic mother sometimes tells you you’re the most talented or beautiful thing in the world, which is triply confusing because you know, reasonably, that can’t be true . . . especially if you’re invisible and awful. She delivers these confusing messages because to her, you’re a mere extension of herself. She cannot see you as a separate and unique person with fascinating abilities and vulnerabilities. So you’re left not really getting good feedback about who you are in this world. If you grow up with this lack of appropriate mirroring, you may either work excessively to prove your existence and worth – or resign yourself to invisibility in one or more areas. I’m a disappointment . . . I can’t be what she wants . . . I’m a failure.
When your mother thinks you’re a slut . . .
If you feel kind of sleazy or ashamed when you’re around your mother, she may have criticized your sexuality. Let’s say she spied on you with your high school boyfriend and then shamed you for that passionate kiss. You may try to hide your true self from her view and play a very straight-laced role in her presence. (This is a role I have played around my mother for decades.) You feel her being too interested in your private life and you know it’s emotionally treacherous to allow her access to any part of this. You feel her judging you from a morality standpoint. You know she doesn’t respect your judgment, no matter your integrity. You’ll never be quite clean or proper in her eyes.
How to Heal from Narcissistic Mothering
Here’s a bit of their advice, for any of you who, like me, have grown up or even lived half your life feeling like a whore, a failure, or an arrogant bitch.
- Surround yourself with those who know you and love you. Avoid contact with those who induce a feeling of guilt or shame or anxiety – the sense you should work harder to prove yourself.
- Do lots of self-care to offset the criticism.
- Have a witness when you need to open emails or listen to voicemail messages from your mother.
- Read about how other people have learned to cope.
- Cultivate a spiritual practice, like meditation. This will let you get in touch with your deeply wise inner being.
- Call or text someone who sees you as good whenever you start to hear your mother’s words running through your mind. Share those words and get the reaction of a trusted friend.
- Find a mentor – particularly someone about the same age as your mother. Let her nurture you. Learn what you really needed as a developing child and give thanks for the opportunity to find it now.
- Meditate on what your life would be like if you had a mother who could really see you for who you are. Let that image become vivid and detailed. Enjoy the feeling of it.
Sometimes harsh religion amplifies the narcissism in our families and delivers us mothers who erode our natural self-love. My novel, Wife Material, is about this very process in a fundamentalist family. A narcissistic mother suffered the disruption of her own early mother-child attachment. Know that this is NOT your fault . . . or even hers.Contact Deborah