Cartoon courtesy of Ian Sala sonsofnarcissisticmothers.org
A few days ago, I started a secret group, on Facebook, for daughters of narcissistic mothers. One of the last remaining social taboos is challenging the myth of the ‘perfect mother’. While it is perfectly acceptable to snark about other mothers online, revealing that your own mother was abusive is still frowned upon. The fact that mothers are still revered makes it difficult to discuss the failings of your own with others. But the only way to heal from anything is to acknowledge it – and acknowledgement starts with naming. Giving a name to our mothers’ behaviour is the beginning of dealing with, and accepting what we went through.
I am, of course, using ‘narcissistic’ in a clinical sense, rather than to just mean ‘self-centred’.
Characteristics of Mothers With Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
1.Everything she does is deniable.
2. She violates your boundaries.
3. She displays no respect for you.
4. She refuses to accept that you are a woman separate from her; entitled to your own life, and experiences.
5. She plays favourites with her children.
6. She undermines you – your dreams, ideas, and successes.
7. She is jealous of you.
8. She demeans, criticises, and denigrates you.
9. If you don’t behave exactly how she would like / expects you to, she will treat you as though you are crazy.
10. She lies – by omission, and commission.
11. She reinvents the past to make herself look good – or least better.
12. She has to be the centre of attention all the time.
13. She manipulates your emotions in order to feed on your pain.
14. She’s selfish and wilful.
15. She’s self-absorbed.
16. She’s unable to accept criticism, and gets extremely defensive in the face of it.
17. She’s infantile and petty.
18. She’s aggressive / passive-aggressive.
19. She ‘parentifies’.
19. She’s manipulative.
20. She’s exploitative.
21. She projects.
22. She can never accept that she is wrong about anything.
23. She cannot accept that others have different ways of doing things.
24. She blames others for her mistakes.
25. She actively works to destroy your relationships.
Not every aspect on this list may apply to your mother; but it’s safe to say that if she presents with at least 15 of the 25, she’s a narcissist, and you’re having to deal with the effects of her personality disorder.
For me, one of the worst parts of growing up with a narcissistic mother was her total denial of my right to an emotional life. She never recognised my emotions, needs, or desires. She expected, and demanded that I share details of every experience I had outside the home with her. Depending on what it was, she would
(1) ignore me/it,
(2) counter it with a story of her own,
(3) use that particular need or desire against me, or
(4) using her passive-aggressive skills or outright manipulation to guilt trip me for having needs, desires, etc. that were separate, and different from, her own.
This continued right throughout my childhood and into my adulthood, until I found the strength to escape from the toxic, abusive family I grew up.
One of the saddest things, for me, about the FB group*, is the fact that so many of the members have disclosed a history of child sexual abuse. It’s terribly sad that so many of us have both those things in common. Having grown up with a narcissistic mother can also impact on our own mothering. A mother who didn’t love you makes loving your own children something you worry about: How can anyone possibly be expected to emulate a behaviour that has never been modelled for them? (Dealing with narcissistic mothers, and their effect on pregnant women will be discussed at this workshop in May.)
Of course, I accept that my own mother had adversity in her own life. There is sexual abuse in her own background; she married young (as she says herself, to ‘spite’ her own mother); and her husband was abusive. She suffers with a food addiction, and was a secret eater throughout my childhood. She’s deeply unhappy, and feels the need to inflict that unhappiness on her own daughter. While I can have compassion for the fact that her life didn’t exactly go to plan, I can still hold her accountable for her behaviour – something she’s completely incapable of doing herself.
(*If you’d like to join the group, DM me on Twitter, or email me firstname.lastname@example.org)