Were you constantly invalidated as a child?
Did you hear words of criticism from a person that was supposed to love and accept you no matter what?
Are you not sure who you really are as everything has always been about your mother?
If you have suffered from narcissistic abuse from your mother, I want you to know that I feel your pain. I really, really do. And I am truly sorry that you didn’t get the childhood and upbringing that you wanted and deserved.
I am very sorry that the little girl inside you might feel the need to still take every opportunity to look for love and validation from external people. This desperate search for love usually brings more harm than good.
I am very sorry that you might still feel a sense of deep sadness that you were neither loved, nor accepted by your own mother.
I am very sorry that your father probably saw what was happening but was too focused on saving his relationship with his wife to stand up for you.
I am very sorry that your mother possibly separated you from the rest of the family, or depicted you as the crazy one also leading to isolation from other family members.
If your mother is/was a narcissist, I know you experienced a very wicked, cruel and hidden form of abuse. The form that often goes unnoticed.
HOW DO NARCISSISTIC MOTHERS WORK?
Narcissistic mothers treat their daughters as an extension of themselves with no right to think and behave in their own individual way.
Karyl McBride, in her excellent book on this topic “Will I ever be good enough?” writes:
“A narcissistic mother sees her daughter, more than her son, as a reflection and extension of herself rather than a separate person with her own identity. She puts pressure on her daughter to act and react to the world and her surroundings in the exact manner that Mom would, rather than in a way that feels right for the daughter. Thus, the daughter is always scrambling to find the “right” way to respond to her mother in order to win her love and approval.
Most damaging is that a narcissistic mother never approves of her daughter simply for being herself, which the daughter desperately needs in order to grow into a confident woman.
A daughter who doesn’t receive validation from her earliest relationship with her mother learns that she has no significance in the world and her efforts have no effect.”
No matter how much you try to establish a genuine emotional connection with your mother, it just simply doesn’t work. No matter what you do, nothing is ever good enough. No matter how many times you might have tried to talk to your mother about this, it most probably led to a violent argument (known as a narcissistic rage), which didn’t resolve absolutely anything.
Being a daughter of a narcissistic mother is a very insidious and lonely situation to be in, especially that to the outside world, a narcissist is a completely different person, not the person you know behind closed doors.
WHAT ARE SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF A NARCISSISTIC MOTHER?
If you are wondering right now if your mother is a narcissist, here are some behaviours that are typical for narcissistic mothers. The list could definitely be longer but we’ll just focus on the most common ones.
1. Nothing is ever her fault.
Narcissists take absolutely no responsibility for anything. Thus, narcissistic mothers are never accountable for what they do or say. They are always right and if anyone suggests a different scenario they will most probably experience a phenomenon called “narcissistic rage”.
Wikipedia defines narcissistic rage as “A psychological construct that describes a reaction to narcissistic injury, which is conceptualized as a perceived threat to a narcissist’s self-esteem or self-worth.”
If you have a narcissistic mother you know exactly how such rage looks and feels like. It is a horrible and heartbreaking experience, especially since all you want is to build some emotional connection with your mother.
2. She invalidates you.
Invalidating your thoughts and feelings will lead to erasing your self-identity. It is a way of invading your head and making you feel you can’t trust yourself. It is both psychological and emotional abuse and it is extremely damaging to your mental health.
In “You’re not crazy. It’s your mother”, Danu Morrigan writes:
“To deny someone’s feelings or experiences is to literally deny their reality. And that’s what happens to us DONMs (daughters of narcissistic mothers) all the time.
The only reality that is allowed to exist is our mother’s reality. And where her version of reality clashes with ours, ours must yield.”
Such treatment from your mother will leave you feeling absolutely worthless and gradually disconnected from a sense of self.
3. She gaslights you.
Gaslighting is a form of narcissistic abuse where, in this context, a narcissistic mother changes the history of occurrences so that you start doubting yourself and your sanity.
It is a very insidious and vicious form of emotional abuse. Gradually you start thinking that you are simply going crazy.
4. Nothing ever gets resolved.
It is absolutely impossible to resolve any issues with a narcissistic mother. You might have the best intentions to express your thoughts and feelings in a respectful way but it will simply not go well with your narc mom. She can not handle even the slightest suggestion that she did something wrong.
5. She has a victim/martyr mentality.
Narcissists are never perpetrators. They are always victims. They are always attacked by people. How do you attack them? By calling them on their behaviour, no matter how gentle you might be.
Disagreeing with your mother on anything is perceived as a very cruel attack on her. Most probably she will react with an explosion of rage.
Let me quote Danu Morrigan here:
“Every event is twisted into some victimisation of her. It’s amazing how much she will twist the truth and leave out facts to play the martyr. And, in an exquisite irony, she will have her acolytes, and her co-dependent family members, to rally around and give her sympathy for her nasty ungrateful daughter being mean and nasty to her.
Which further validates that she was right and you are wrong. Because everyone agrees that that’s the case.”
HOW CAN YOU START HEALING FROM NARCISSISTIC ABUSE?
Despite being invalidated and abused by your own mother, there is always a chance to heal from all the negative messages she instilled in your mind.
No matter how much you have suffered because of her and your upbringing, you can choose to say “enough is enough”. It is really about making a decision that you are not going to be abused anymore. It is about you making a decision to speak your truth (be aware that your mother and the rest of the family won’t like it!).
Here are some steps that you might want to follow if you feel that now is the time to choose yourself and reprogram your mind after years of abuse.
Make a decision that you won’t allow your mother to abuse you anymore.
This is the beginning of your journey towards healing. You need to make a decision in your mind and in your heart that you will not allow your mother to abuse you. Enough is enough.
You need to really feel that you are ready as the consequence of this decision might be that you are going to lose touch with not only your mother but most probably with the rest of the family too.
Be aware that your narcissistic mother will not spare you from her smear campaign. Your father will probably choose to stay in a delusion that everything is fine and you are simply overreacting (as always). Your siblings might be either not aware of what’s happening or they might play the role of a golden child. Each story is a bit different but most stories have one element in common – narcissistic families don’t like the truth. They like to pretend that everything is absolutely fine. It is you who is the problem.
Karyl McBride, the author of “Will I ever be good enough?” compares a narcissistic family to a beautiful apple that looks perfect on the outside but when you take a bite, you realise there is a worm inside.
Your family will choose to protect the image they created no matter what. The image is what really matters. They will not choose you or your mental well-being. Be prepared for that. It might hurt when you realise that your father will not be able to stand by you. It might hurt to see the rest of the family turning their back on you too.
That’s what it takes to heal. It takes real courage to choose yourself. And the decision to do so is the absolute no. 1 step to embark on the journey of reclaiming your power.
Accept your mother’s limitations and allow yourself to grieve.
Step 2 is about accepting that your mother will never change. There is absolutely no hope for that as she has neither self-awareness nor desire to reflect on herself and her behaviour.
If you are like me, you might have already spent years trying to figure out what is going on in your family and that might have led you to the path of personal development. From this perspective, it is a bit hard to grasp the concept of someone who never has moments of thinking if what they say or do is actually kind, mindful etc. But that’s the truth about our mothers. They think they are always right and that’s it. End of story.
So, it is really safe to assume that she will never change. Now that you know this, allow yourself to grieve. Grieve the loss of your mother. Grieve the loss of illusions about your mother. Grieve the loss of hope that she will change (she won’t, believe me). Grieve your childhood. Grieve the girl/woman you could have been if you had a mother that actually loved you and cared about you.
You might be wondering how you can go through this grieving process. You can simply schedule 10 mins a day for yourself to sit in silence and reflect on your childhood. As you do this, allow various emotions to come to the surface. Acknowledge them and let them be. If you feel like crying, let yourself cry. Let the emotions flow freely until there is no more grief left.
Create your own internal mother and reframe negative messages you were fed in your childhood.
I’ve read about the idea of creating your own internal mother in Karyl McBride’s book, “Will I ever be good enough”. I found this idea a bit strange at first and to be honest I wasn’t sure how I am supposed to awaken my internal mother in me.
But it turned out to be not that difficult to connect to my own maternal energy (although I am not a mother).
This is what Karyl McBride says about this step of the recovery:
“The internal mother is best understood as your own maternal instinct. It is the intuitive voice that speaks to you and wants to nurture, love, and mother you. To grow your internal mother, you must first give her permission to be there. You allow her kind, maternal voice to resonate within you. You allow yourself to hear it. To begin, find a quiet, lovely healing place where you will have solitude. This may be the bathtub, your deck, office, or on a walk. Whatever works for you. Try to create an atmosphere where you will not be interrupted. After you’ve done this several times, you will be able to do this anywhere and even go through interruptions.”
Once you have been able to connect to the maternal energy in you, McBride suggests that you make the “I am” list. It is a list of all the incredible and unique qualities that make you. Make sure that you do this part of the practice after you connected to your internal mother. She will help you see all the beautiful strengths and characteristics that you have. Let the words flow. Write down all the good things about you.
“I am kind, I am strong, I am honest, I am a person of integrity, I am spiritual, I am caring, I am responsible, I am tolerant, I am trustworthy, I am patient, I am creative, I am loyal, I am gentle, I am brave, I am funny.”
Know yourself and reconnect to your inner self.
If you have a narcissistic mother, you might discover that as an adult you don’t know who you really are. You are not sure about your interests, values and beliefs. Or maybe you are sure who you are but you are scared to show it to the world. That might also be an option. Both of these scenarios are not very surprising as your upbringing didn’t support your healthy development. You were perceived as only your mother’s extension, not a separate individual with her talents, passions and needs.
It is very useful and valuable to ask yourself some questions. Here are some examples of questions to help you discover who you really are.
What do I value most?
What makes me happy?
What gives me a sense of fulfilment?
What are my talents?
What do I value the most in a love relationship?
What do I like doing the most in my free time?
What is my favourite kind of exercise?
What cuisine do I like?
Some of these questions might seem trivial but they will give you more insight into your thoughts, desires and preferences. Of course, you can add many more questions to this list. Try it. It is actually fun to spend some time looking within and exploring yourself in this way.
Once you’ve made the list, incorporate some of your favourite things into your daily life. Start doing what YOU really love.
Manage your relationship with your mother in a healthy way.
This point is not easy to implement. I mean, all of them are not that easy but this one will require a lot of inner strength and commitment from you. The commitment I am talking about here is the commitment to yourself and to the decision that you made.
Managing the relationship with your mother might mean that you will need to disconnect from her totally. We need to openly acknowledge here that some mothers are simply too toxic to be around. It is a decision that you make for your own mental health, even though some people around you may not understand it.
This decision might mean that you will also lose touch with your father and your siblings and possibly with the rest of your family. Your mother might start a smearing campaign against you (if she hasn’t already) and it might be simply too painful to face the whole misconception that your family has about you. You need to go through the recovery process with a sense of true commitment towards yourself.
Every step we’ve discussed here is a step on the path of getting you reconnected to who you truly are. It is a path of getting control over your mental health, embracing your uniqueness and following your dreams. You are absolutely worth it.
Some of you may choose to stay in touch with your mothers. There is no good or bad decision here. It all depends on how you feel about it. You need to check with yourself which option is more healthy for you. If you choose to stay in touch with your mother, make sure that you set up healthy boundaries (or any boundaries for that matter).
In theory, setting boundaries is easy. Let’s say, you inform your mother that from now on you will call her only once a week and you simply stick to the plan. You might explain to her why you want to introduce this new rule between you and her. You might even tell her that you need to take better care of your mental health and you need more time for yourself.
The issue with narcissistic mothers is that they hardly listen or care about what you say and need so your mother might completely ignore you or even organise a guilt trip about how horrible a daughter you are that you are trying to impose some boundaries like this. If it happens, make sure that you stick to your plan and if you see that she calls you on a day that you are not supposed to talk, don’t pick up.
It might take some time and some tensions between you and your mother but if you stick to your boundaries, your mother might start respecting them a bit more. And then it might be possible for you to have a civil relationship with her. It won’t be emotionally fulfilling (there is really no chance for that) but it might be an option to choose if you want to stay in touch with your mother and the rest of the family.
Healing from narcissistic abuse is never easy. If the narcissist is your mother makes the whole situation even more challenging. I know it well. I’ve been there.
Let me know how your recovery is going. Psychotherapy with someone who understands the problem might help you a lot in speeding the recovery process. If you feel stuck in the pain of the abuse, feel free to message me and we will see how we can work together.
McBride, K. (2008). Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Mothers. Simon & Schuster
Morrigan, D. (2012). You’re Not Crazy – It’s Your Mother. Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd.