If you have ever met someone who hovers over the idea of talking about their parent, there is a high chance their parent is a narcissist.
There is nothing quite like trying to explain that your relationship with your parent isn’t where you want it to be, not for lack of trying. It’s even harder to tell them that you have purposely decided to cut off contact. Purposely.
“Oh, but it’s your mother, you only have one!” Yep, I am aware of that burdening fact, thanks for the reminder. “You’ll regret it one day when she is gone.” Something I think about all the time, yet I still decided it was better for me to stay away. “Why not try therapy?” Tried it, she manipulated the therapist to believe I was entirely at fault and refused to have any part in necessary self-reflection. So to be scapegoated as a “horrible, troubled child” yet again? No thanks.
It’s difficult to put into words what it is like to consciously know that you will only ever have one mother biologically, and the one you have is pretty crappy. They never gave you or could ever give you what you truly needed as their child, and no, no one can ever replace her. If you come across someone who tells you that you’re overreacting and acting like a snowflake, they’re gaslighting you. Don’t take that shit. They might even be in denial that they have a narcissistic mother of their own and haven’t healed that part of themselves yet, let alone have the courage to cut her off. The part of us that needs validation from mummy wouldn’t ever dare!
God tells us to honor thy parents, but what about when our parents are abusive? Therapists all over tell us that “no contact” or “low contact” is the best way to deal with these kinds of relationships. To find you’re dealing with a true narcissist is something particularly unique, especially with a parent-child relationship.
It starts out like a feeling that “something is not right,” which turns into a heavy burden until you stumble across something that tells you about codependence/neglect, the cycle of abuse or narcissism itself. Bells start ringing and a twinge of guilt in the stomach ensues.
You are born into their grasp, born to love, honor, and cherish them forevermore. They’re there to lift you up, guide you, and smooth out your transition into the world, yet for some strange reason you feel compelled to prove yourself to them, terrified of what would happen if you didn’t end up perfect. Every other person you stumble across that doesn’t immediately “see” you makes you wonder, “Am I good enough?” You find yourself continuing to prove your worthiness to anyone, everyone—compelled even.
One of the most isolating feelings in the world is knowing that no matter what happens to you, what you tell them, how you feel, if you’re literally on your deathbed… they will always find a way to make it about themselves.
Trust me when I say “deathbed”, because I have been there (and no, it doesn’t change, even then). So you push harder to prove that you’re alive, you’re here, you exist. You can sit there and tell them about an immensely traumatic experience of your own and have it turned and twisted into what they believe the version of events should be because it is always about them. And yes, that has also happened to me. These are all real experiences.
You are a mini “them” in their eyes. You are the biggest reflection of their worth as a mother. So, if you don’t reflect their inner world precisely, they make it clear to you that will never be good enough.
You will spend years trying to prove yourself—trying everything to get in their good books. You will try to say the right things, act the right way, help them just enough, give them every moment of your time, do more and more things for them and have your life completely turned upside down and devoted to them, and it still not be good enough.
Later, this will translate to your friendships and relationships.
“Please love me!” / “Why don’t you love me?”
“Will I ever be good enough?” / “Why haven’t I ever been?”
“This isn’t good enough for me…” / “I expect more…”
“This always happens to me…” / “Abandoned, yet again…”
It takes many years to permit yourself to accept who they are, if you ever even begin that journey. That is how it happened for me. I was handed many responsibilities and expected to be a certain way, think certain things and be someone I was entirely not. Anytime I showed a flash of who I really was, it was squandered.
“No child of mine will EVER…”
So, over time, you learn to hide who you really are. You pretend you are something you are not. Children find this easy. They play two roles – one in real life and one with their parent. As we get to our teen years, this shapes our identity. Shrouded in secret, we externally show our inner selves through our fashion, friends, and interests, but around mummy dearest, we pretend it’s all for show…
Then we become adults. Fragmented adults who play two roles because we think that is what society wants of us. In the workplace, alone in public, around acquaintances we pretend to be this version that mummy loves. But when it comes to the people who really know us, we let our true colors show. “You are quite a _____ person” our friends might say, and we feel confused and elated at once because someone saw who we really were and accepted it. In fact, they liked it.
But, if you’re still spending time trying to gain approval from mummy, that doesn’t last long. The enmeshment of ideas, beliefs, and values come flooding back in. You’re back to this uptight, way too serious person who carries the entire world of their own (and everyone else’s) on their shoulders. “Why can’t you just take a joke?” Mum would say, and I would feel the rage inside me. I cannot even begin to explain this Mum, and if I tried you wouldn’t listen. I know that now.
But, although we have tried it all, we forcefully jump to the end of the process, and try the hardest thing: Acceptance. “I’ll just accept her as she is and keep the peace. I will pretend there isn’t huge gaping hole where I need my mother to be, and fend for myself.” The hard part about accepting them is, although you have changed yet again, they never will.
The games continue and you end up left with even more of a gaping hole inside because your acceptance of them leads to even more enmeshment and your huge heart being taken advantage of. You aren’t being you. You are afraid of being you and it’s scary trying.
“She will never accept this person.” We think to ourselves unconsciously, and we spend our days trying to be good enough, in any way possible. We will excel at study, we will get high powered jobs, we will create beautiful, flawless children with our “perfect” partners… yet mother still turns her nose up. “Not good enough”… still?
The thing is, we will never be good enough to our narcissistic mothers. The problem wholly lies within their own web of beliefs. In fact, if we bring it down to the “science” of it, they feel like they will never be good enough and expect the highest return for carrying that burden since their own mummy or daddy made them feel that way.
There comes a time in their lives where they decide that looking at self is too painful. Admitting their own fault is terrifying and would break them into pieces. If they were to admit they got you wrong too, it would shatter their entire livelihood. So they pretend that who you really are has nothing to do with them, that by some coincidence the Universe provided them a rotten egg. To admit this was their own doing, well, that just isn’t ever going to happen. It literally doesn’t compute in the mind of a true narcissist.
That would make you in some way “above them”. That would make them smaller, weaker and less honored by you and the world around them. In reality, it would only make them more human to us. To admit we make mistakes makes us human beings. But our narcissistic mothers are like robots. They lost their humanity under the layers of survival mode and lack of tools to help themselves. They armored themselves with a false sense of certainty and confidence, by using denial as their biggest weapon.
I tell my clients all the time that it is very normal to have two opposing feelings about our mothers at once. For years we have used cognitive dissonance to make excuses for their behavior, essentially to protect ourselves from the truth – that our mother wasn’t really a good mother although we love her so much. She would remind me every single day “I am a good mother.” Well, mum, if you have to try so hard to convince me and yourself of that fact, are you really?
I know for a fact those words will still be ringing in her own ears, although we haven’t spoken for two years now. Where is the point where they wonder if they did something wrong? It never comes because that would mean, you betcha, some self reflection would be had, but they’re literally incapable of it.
So we have to spend the rest of our lives coming to terms with that fact. It hurts. It makes you cry and feel like your insides are bleeding. You will write letters and continue to bargain your way into worthiness. You will pray and try new approaches, but there will eventually come a time where you stop giving a shit.
Because you finally see the what process really is a grieving process. One which, once moved through will provide so much healing for you.
It will come with severe apathy and depression wishing she would just love you or you will be so enraged that you wish she died right now so you didn’t have to share the Earth with her anymore. You will have both feelings, all the feelings, no feelings…
Then you will hear a silence you have never allowed yourself to hear before.
The silence of your own reflections and your identity that you never allowed to come through. The silence of this grieving process you didn’t even know you were going through. The silence of the most truthful truths you could ever know.
That you have been chasing something that was always there. That if you stop trying so hard and just allow yourself to be, your true self comes out without effort. The person you are with the people you are most close to shines through without effort because these relationships are flooded with acceptance. They facilitated the safety for your true self to come out, so all you have to do is know it’s safe ALL the time for your true self to come out.
Even in front of mummy dearest.
Make it a game – shine your true self out to the world and allow your mother to see. Watch her face in shock and horror and don’t give one fuck about it. Predict her manipulative games and expect them: “Oh, don’t be like that, you wouldn’t want everyone to see…” Ask your mother what is so wrong about who you really are. Stop giving a shit about what she thinks. Tell her your secrets, lay out the truth, and allow it to sink into her. Giggle in pleasure as she fumbles her way through life trying to guess what stopped you from caring about what she thinks, how you got away with so much and how you figured out her secret – because she created the environment for you to become the ultimate weapon against her!
Because it really doesn’t fucking matter what she thinks. Really! She conditioned you to believe you would never be good enough if you weren’t a reflection of her, because she couldn’t handle her own reflection in the mirror, so she tried super hard to make someone perfect to prove to herself how worthy she is, how terrible a burden to pass onto your child. The idea that you are imperfect and somehow you could eventually be… perfection? No fucking way.
This is a journey of self-love. Stop wishing your mother would love herself—that’s not your responsibility. Stop making it your job to fix her. Just fucking love yourself. This is why this happened to you and for you. So you could find a love so fierce that nothing could blow that flame out!
I give you permission to stop giving a fuck about her approval. I give you permission to stop giving a fuck about what she thinks and what she will tell others. Go out and be your true self, think what you want to think, and be proud of it, then shout it from the rooftops and take pleasure that it freaks the fuck out of your mother. She would have never dared to love and fully accept herself as you are now. Your power is your greatest weapon against her.
She will threaten the loss of many important things to you – for me, it was my siblings. For you, it might be school, money, inheritance, support, a relationship. Whatever it may be, dare to create it for yourself without their support. I take what I can get with my siblings. She hates that I accept it and don’t try to get my way, because that’s the only weapon she has against me. They know that whatever they hold over you is the only thing keeping you there, so when you stop caring about it, they have lost their power. When they see you living your life and creating it yourself, they have become afraid of your potential and end up not even wanting you back for fear of losing their own sense of fake power.
Stay wary and remember who they really are. Never forget: they will never change. They are predictable. You know how to pick their reactions like clockwork.
Let it happen. Let the entire system break. Let it all wash over everyone because for a long time you have been holding it all together! When the system breaks, people have to figure shit out. Let them do it. It was never your responsibility to hold it all together anyways.
Give it space. Spend time allowing the emotions to flow through you, this is going to take a lot of time. You’re going to have to process a lot and then deal with the repercussions and get back on your own feet, but this time you’ll have a foundation you created yourself that NO ONE can rip out from under you, especially not your mother.
I am here to let you know that although this is a terrifying journey that I would never wish upon anyone, it is also the most fulfilling and wholesome journey I have ever been on. It took me a lot of time to realize I didn’t need my mother to feel good enough. It took even longer to realize I actually enjoyed not having a mother in my life anymore — I was now at peace. It took even longer to accept that I might not want to be away from her forever, either. Like I said, there are many opposing feelings that we have to all come to terms with – and it takes time.
Get support, go to therapy (ideally someone who knows how to deal with narcissism), journal, do what you love, set goals and plans for yourself, get creative, be who you really want to be – think what you want, say what you want, BE what you want. Spend time in nature. Write her letters but don’t send them. Burn them. Talk to God and ask questions. Make new friendships. Find groups of people who know what you’re going through (Thank you, FB groups!), allow it all to wash over you and enjoy the process. Let the tears roll. Work out, push your body and your mind. Shove the mountains off your shoulders and feel what it’s like to take a load off.
Be at peace for the first time in your life because you know ALL you need is you.
You are never alone, remember that.
I am right here with you.