The mother-daughter relationship: to many it’s very special—irreplaceable even. For several women, their moms are the ones who teach them everything about love, life, and childrearing. Moms are the ones we turn to when we need to cry over sad things, have joy over happy things, and, ask advice about hard things.
But what if your relationship with your mom isn’t so great? What if your relationship has been marred with rejection, pain, guilt, and bitterness?
Over the past 15 years, the relationship I have with my mother has been rocky, to put it lightly. The good times are good, even if they’re not genuine, but the bad times are BAD. After years of putting it off, I recently began going to therapy to address my anxiety and any underlying issues.
Over the past couple of months, my counselor and I began to dive deep into more of my history with my mom. I told her how my mom keeps our conversations very shallow; that I can’t talk about hard and deep topics with her.
I told her how my mom has never taken responsibility for her actions, yet plays the victim all the time. I told her how my mom expects me to put forth all the effort into maintaining our relationship, while she puts on the appearance of being a present mother and grandmother. I told her how in each fight, no matter what, I end up apologizing just to keep the peace.
I wondered why my mother didn’t seem to love me—why she never came to visit or never wanted to talk about anything deeper than the weather or what I was making for dinner. When I became a mother, I especially couldn’t understand how someone could be so self-absorbed. I would do anything for my children; why couldn’t she do the same for me? What was wrong with me?
After several sessions of delving through years of hurt, my therapist told me something that quite literally changed my life.
“It sounds like your mother displays qualities of narcissism.”
Narcissism? Isn’t that just when you’re obsessed with yourself? I decided to do some research. According to author and therapist Karyl McBride, “Narcissism is a spectrum disorder, which means it exists on a continuum ranging from a few narcissistic traits to the full-blown personality disorder.” So even though my mom only displays a handful of narcissistic traits, putting a name to it has helped me understand how to interact with her better and begin to heal.
After a few months of therapy, here are some takeaways that I try to remind myself of every day in the context of my relationship with my mother:
- I cannot change my mother. I can only change myself.
- I am not responsible for how my mother feels or reacts to things. I can only be responsible for my feelings and my reactions.
- My feelings are valid in the context of what I’ve been through.
- My mother doesn’t hate me; she actually is very insecure and has a fragile ego.
- My mother has limitations and cannot meet my needs.
These truths have been very hard to swallow, but beginning to accept these things about my mother has helped me to understand more about how to deal with her behavior, as well as how to protect myself from taking her behavior as personal attacks. It’s also been helping me to be less bitter and more empathetic towards her.
I could write a book on my childhood trauma and what I’ve learned from my time in counseling, but I’ll leave with this: While I know I have a long journey of healing ahead of me, it’s been helpful to know that healing is possible, and to know that I’m not alone and neither are you.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. If you suspect you or someone you know have been a victim of narcissistic relationship, contact a therapist or counselor. For further reading on narcissistic mothers, check out Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Karyl McBride.