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Mother’s Day Survival Guide–How To Cope If You Have a Narcissistic Mother

Hi everyone.  May is approaching. It’s a big month for many.  If you have a difficult relationship with your mother, you may find yourself here, reading this, because you need support on how to cope….

If you are a mom then it may help to stay focused on the fact that this is a special day for you as a mother–my two children and my husband like to make it special which is wonderful and I look forward to spending the day with them and being the focus of their attention. My daughter’s birthday is always around Mother’s Day and our anniversary is in May so there is always alot going on.

If you are not a parent then allow yourself to be busy with all the positive things that are Spring related–even spring cleaning and decluttering to bring renewed positive energy into your home. (Distracting yourself may only be helpful if you are also working through any painful feelings that arise by writing in a journal for your eyes only or purging your pain verbally with a safe person in your life who can be an enlightened witness for you.) I allow myself to be distracted because I know in my heart now (after all of my inner grief work) that it is okay for me to detach from any relationship that does not feel like I have the freedom to be ME!  I no longer feel guilty for putting LOVE and self-compassion first in my life.  It is for your higher good to have healthy boundaries in your life–detach from people who you do not feel safe around to be YOURSELF! After you fully heal and feel safe to be YOU without being triggered and stressed then you can reassess your desire to have a closer relationship with any people in question.  It is okay whatever you decide to do–just do what is the least stressful for your healing soul.

So, focusing on being positive and on the other positive events going on for you in May and making them special for your loved ones will help to supercede any negative feelings that may arise.  And isn’t that what we all need to do all the time anyway?  Build ourselves up with positive messages–affirmations if you will–the opposite of what we (highly sensitive children) may have received growing up.  For example, tell yourself  “I can do it!”  instead of  “you can’t do that–who do you think you are!”  And “I love and approve of myself” instead of “what were you thinking–why did you do it that way!”  And say, “I am safe” for the dreaded “how dare you talk to me that way–you are so ungrateful!”    Perhaps now you can see how ridiculous the accusations and blaming are, because you know the truth about you is the opposite and these were said out of inner fear, inner shame and ignorance and not necessarily to hurt you.  But at the time, these accusations were excruciatingly painful to you.  As highly sensitive children we trusted our caretakers more than we trusted ourselves.

There are so many more examples  you may be thinking of, but the point here is not to believe these negative messages in our heads, given to us by someone with conditional love as a parenting method that was passed down for many generations without guilt.  Conditional love is not love.  The opposite of these messages is probably more the real truth.  When you find yourself thinking something negative like “I am never going to get this done” or “I am not good at this”–turn it around and be the ideal mother to yourself that you never had.  Say “I am doing a good job”  and “I am great at this” and “look how much I got done already”.  You deserve these positive messages now and you deserved them as a child.

I can feel the stress of Mother’s Day approaching from all of you out there and so I want to give you some additional extra support to help you stay strong and be true to yourself and honor your feelings.  As highly sensitive people, we want so badly to do the right thing, the kindest thing, the most compassionate response at all times and so we feel guilt for not wanting to honor thy mother on this day that is meant to honor those mothers who are honorable.  And so I am going to write out some quotes from a book that helped me in my darkest hours when I needed them most at the age of 25.  The name of the book is “Cutting Loose–An Adult’s Guide To Coming To Terms With Your Parents”.  This book by Howard M. Halpern, Ph.D.  is full of wonderful emotionally healthy ways to deal with every kind of difficult parent you can imagine.  There is the martyred parent, the despotic parent, the seductive parent, the moralistic parent, and of course the parent with a narcissistic disturbance but who is remorseful about their actions if you confront them.  The book talks about all kinds of ways you can learn to communicate with these kinds of parents and for some of you there may actually be some light at the end of the tunnel if your parent is genuinely remorseful!  A very helpful part of the book is the very last chapter that talks about dealing with the narcissistic parent that takes an adversary stance.  Here is some of it:

“The narcissistic parent in a adversary posture is an enraged peacock.  When you stop trying to win his (her) nurturant caring by being a compliant extension of him, when you no longer exalt him, when you stop following his pre-scribed script, he will react with the indignant certainty, “If you are not a part of me, you’re against me.”  And, if you require reciprocity in your relationship with him, if you insist on a flow of give and take, he will feel that you are trying to take everything from him and always have your own way.  He (she) may be willing to write you off rather than submit to such an obviously unfair demand on your part, and unfortunately you may have to let him do just that.”

“The form a parent’s rigidity may take when it hardens into an adversary position will differ with the type of inner child he has, but what they all have in common is enormous rage and outrage if you fail to act as they expect.  And theirs is not a transient outburst at unexpected frustration or disappointment–their fury may calcify into a chronic suspiciousness or hatred in which you can sense the willingness to destroy the relationship with you and even to wreck your happiness and theirs rather than accept a new way of relating.”

“Depending on you, the experience of your parent perceiving you as an enemy will either so traumatize you that you will choose to regress back to the old song and dance, or will so clarify how impossible it is to have a viable, constructive relationship with him that it will make it easier for you to terminate the tie.  You know what going back means; you’ve been there.  Under the circumstances, if you’ve come so far that you’ve been able to change the song and dance and this has done nothing but propel them into an adversary stance, it is clearly better to make the painful decision to let it go.”  

Hoping this is helpful for you to read!  As I have said before, it takes a lot of inner strength and outside supports to take the action of setting boundaries with a parent. If you are one of the people who is in this position and struggling with guilt on this Mother’s Day week, please know that you are not alone.  I am here to say, everything is going to be okay, if you will be especially kind to yourself and your wounded inner child this week.  Think back to some things you loved as a child and do that for yourself on Mother’s Day.  Ride your bike, play with your dog or cat, skip through a field of flowers, read a favorite comic book, watch your favorite show, take a bubble bath, draw a silly picture, or finger paint. If this just seems too silly to you, wasn’t it fun just imagining yourself doing those things?   That is the power of visualizations and affirmations to change your mood–it really works!  The strong part of you can mother, nurture, comfort and love the wounded inner child part of you on Mother’s Day–imagine the adult you comforting the child you.

This powerful exercise will help you in your healing if you do it whenever you are feeling a lot of self-doubt, guilt, or emotional pain. Also do something special for yourself.   Maybe you could buy yourself a small gift you’ve been wanting or wanted as a child as a reward for being strong.  You survived!  And as a highly sensitive person (HSP), you are stronger and have more to give to others because of the compassion you recognize that you deserved but never received from your mother.  Be the mother you never had to yourself and you can begin to heal your childhood wounds and find your true voice and become the person that you are meant to be. God Bless You All.

Today I have decided to release the lyrics for my song, “Finally I See, Now I’m Free”.  This song was written  at a time when I realized the futility of a relationship in my life and was grieving for what would never be–but also discovered an inner strength and a new found sense of freedom.  I hope it brings you some comfort and strength during this difficult week.

With love,

Roxanne

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15 responses

  1. Roxanne, when I saw the title of this post I went and got myself a cup of coffee, got settled in and prepared to read words with which I could completely identify.

    You did not disappoint.

    I have written quite a lot about mother’s day myself. It increasingly became my most hated holiday shortly after I became a mother.

    I’m going to try to keep my comment shorter than your post because I really can go on and on and on about this day. I agree with everything you said. Our society, and of course our N mothers, say that we must honor our mothers, honorable or not. I called BS on that one and finally took a stand in 2008.

    I was so tired of this day being about my mother. So tired of the obligatory, life-sucking appeasing. So tired of it not being my day too. Hubby did his best but the majority of the day was spent catering to his mother (very honorable) and mine (not so much). Not one mother’s day was spent doing only what I wanted to do. I was always finding a gift that would be acceptable, planning brunches, hosting get-togethers at my house and generally ignoring what I wanted. Hell, I didn’t even know what I really wanted.

    In 2008 I figured it out. I wanted to take a trip. To the ocean. Alone. I know, completely outrageous and radical behavior, right? LEAVE TOWN on my mother’s big day?! It caused quite a stir. It was the best thing I have ever done. I will continue doing it every year for as long as I can.

    I leave this Friday and come back late Sunday. I’ll leave a token gift for her to collect from my sister since she (the good daughter) still does participate in honoring our mother. I usually try to find something that would be fitting for a normal mother and that is on clearance. That way I don’t attempt to run myself ragged figuring out what she would want or resent spending too much money. In 2008 she received a Hallmark scrapbook where she could record memories from her life to give to her grandsons. I’m fairly certain she re-gifted it. This year…I’m thinking a coffee mug. Oh, and I’ll call her from the beach. 🙂

    I will be reading this book, thanks for recommending it. You have a wonderful mother’s day and very busy and exciting month!!

    Great post.

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    1. Cyndi, thank you so much for sharing this with me. It means so much to me to know you looked forward to reading my post by settling in with a cup of coffee and the feeling that I would have words with which you would completely identify. What a wonderful compliment. Thank you so much!

      I understand! I hope you like the book and thank you for the well wishes for Mother’s Day and my exciting month. I appreciate it very much. Have a wonderful time at the ocean and Happy Mother’s Day to you as well! You are an inspiration to the rest of us.

      With love, Roxanne

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  2. Roxanne,

    Thank you so much for giving me words to contemplate this week, the excerpts you include here really give me strength for this week. This is the first Mother’s Day that I’m “on-the-outs” with NM, and I have the pit of dread and guilt that I don’t want to honor her. Thank you for sharing your insights.

    xo
    upsi

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    1. upsi, thank you so much for sharing this. I am so glad the excerpts I included give you strength for the week. This is also my first Mother’s Day on-the-outs and I understand this “pit of dread and guilt”. Be extra kind to yourself this week and next weekend, upsi. Allowing righteous anger about the way your feelings are treated is a healthy way to fight off the guilt. Then use the energy the anger provides to do loving, positive things for yourself. I’m with you and I’m proud of you. Stay strong. Thank you so much for your comment. Much love and comfort to you, Roxanne

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  3. Again another helpful post, thank you, and the comments are helpful also, to see I’m not alone. What a strange world to “live” in being so sensitive and so unloved. And yet my mother has some strange obsession with me, it is just all so unnatural to my own way of understanding love and family. I’m thankful I’ve become so much happier and healthier on my own, and with help from counselors and writers over the years. But upon the big break up with my mom, after at least one big attempt, and having some doubts on how it will end up, it’s kind of scary still. But your blog is helping a lot.
    Thank you.

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    1. I like how you express “what a strange world to live in being so sensitive and so unloved”. I have reconciled this exact feeling by discovering that us highly sensitive souls seem to be “old souls” with much innate wisdom and with a “natural” way of understanding love and family as you describe. We start out in life being so wounded by our surroundings that we literally hide away until we are forced to feel some horrible emotional pain and then find out that we are actually really strong and have so much to give others. So it’s no wonder we never fit in before–we are different in a very great way. So glad you were able to reach out and get support–it’s so important. I also am grateful to those who helped me find my voice. I understand it’s kind of scary still–this setting boundaries from the family “mesh” and pressure. But remember, with success then childhood pain comes up to heal and with this you must comfort your abandoned inner child by being very kind and easy on your self. Extreme Self Care is what I call it. Please keep in touch! Your comments are supporting those who have not yet found their voice. I am so glad my blog is helping you. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings as a fellow HSP with childhood wounds. With love, Roxanne

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  4. Thank you very much for your wonderful replies, Roxanne, you are helping me be strong right now. I’m sure you must help many many people.

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    1. You are very welcome, purplebath. I know how much it helps to have even just one other person who understands…. Thank you for your kind words.

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  5. This past Mother’s Day (2010) was my first, and my mother ignored it. She’s started ignoring me in January, ’10, a month after my son was born, because I dared ask her (over e-mail) why she didn’t come down for his birth. I won’t go on and on, but basically she never agreed to come down, even though I’d asked her for months. She always said, ‘we’ll see,” then never talked about it again.

    When I dared to approach her with this question, she listed off a litany of excuses, all of which had to do with me…why I’m such a bad daughter, the various ways in which I offended her, etc.

    It’s been more than 8 months since we’ve ‘spoken,’ and I am glad. No longer do I have to drive 6 hours to see her in Maine (she never comes here), only to endure the silent treatment for half of my stay b/c of some minor, unknown infraction on my part. Anything will set her off, but you better be sure that she feels free to say incredible things to you.

    For instance, a few years ago I found out my boyfriend was cheating on me. It was Christmas Eve day. She just looked at me, and said the following three things as I cried: “You know, your father cheated on me and his first wife for years. In a way, it’s like your paying for his mistakes”; you stayed with your (earlier) ex-boyfriend too long; now all the good ones are taken”; “just chalk it up to another lost cause.”

    My mother is incredibly jealous of me, too. If she sees a flattering picture of me, she says, “you’re so photogenic, it makes me SICK.” Or when she spotted my engagement ring for the first time last summer, she said nothing. When I brought it up hours later, asking her how she liked it, she said, annoyed, “yep. I saw it GLISTENING in the sun earlier.”

    When I was 17, I needed braces and glasses. She didn’t want me to have these things because since she and other families had crooked teeth, I should have them, too. That’s basically what she told me. And when my driver’s ed teacher said I needed glasses, she refused to get them, saying I just wanted them because my friend had them.

    I eventually got both of these things, but it tooks a long, long time. When I got my braces off at 19, after my FRESHMAN year of college, she wouldn’t even look at me. She sat stonefaced, staring straight ahead in the living room. When I asked her to look at how they came out (I was very proud), she wouldn’t look. All she said was, “must be nice!”

    “Must be nice” is something I’ve heard my whole life from her. Silent treatments have been doled out like candy to a child on Halloween. I’m done with this woman. She has barely and family and no friends, and there’s a reason why: she never dealt with her own childhood issues. Since I have an 8-month-old, I’ve decided to shield him from this. It feels good to not hear her negative voice in my head all the time.

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    1. Debra, Thanks for sharing your personal accounts of the silent treatments, jealousy, accusations, invalidation of your feelings and needs, and just plain meanness and lack of love–all classic characteristics and behaviors of a narcissistic mother. I like how you say you are glad you have not spoken and that you’ve decided to shield your children from her. If you let them get to know her because she is on her good behavior and seems to care about them, she may slyly try to turn your own kids against you by pointing out your faults to them. Sounds like you are aware of this possibility. Don’t be fooled by her sudden “niceness” when your kids get older and easier for her to be around. She may try to bond with them and bribe them and undermine your parental authority by being the “nice” one.

      Debra, I’m so sorry for the rejection and pain you had to endure–for the treatment during your breakup and with your braces and glasses, and then with your new baby. Thanks for saying, “I’m done with this woman.” It is so good for other victims to hear these accounts and words of independence and freedom. Only those who have walked in “the shoes” can really understand the healthiness of setting boundaries so that you can heal and get stronger. Congratulations, Debra. Thanks again for sharing your story. With Love and Light, Roxanne

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    2. Wow, your story sounds familiar… Tomorrow will be my second Mother’s Day and I am not talking to my mother this year for a plethora of reasons similar to many of yours and other posters. The last time I spoke with her she hurt me very badly, and I just cannot take anymore. She appears to be the “good mother” to others around her, and I have an enabling father which makes it worse. Last year, she didn’t acknowledge the day for me, and although my husband and in-laws did and friends did, it still hurt. I am reflecting now and found this blog. Your story made me feel a bit better because it sounds close to mine, especially the baby part. I just feel very sad that my daughter is missing her grandmother, but I may be projecting the loss of not really have a loving mom, myself. My daughter was born 3 months early, almost didn’t make it, but today doing wonderfully at almost two. Sadly, my mother never visited me at the hospital, chose to go on an exotic vacation, while I was in the hospital on bed rest after my water broke. A few days later, I had the baby, she called me from the resort she was at and I was upset because I wanted her with me not on vacation, I was also hospitalized myself for complications from my pregnancy, in intensive care, and hadn’t even seen my baby yet… instead of apologizing for not being there, she screamed at me and told me that I “ruined her vacation”. Ironically, my daughter is highly sensitive and creative like myself, and I am trying to nurture this in her. I think of it as a gift, and taking care of her and mentoring her is a way of healing myself. Ironically, my mother didn’t want me to go to college, either. I did, it was really hard to support myself, so I know how you feel. I had many a success in undergraduate and graduate school and she dismissed all of them as mere flukes. Sadly, I felt myself like none mattered because she didn’t think so. I very recently began therapy because I don’t want to put my own child through what I went through with her narcissism and don’t want to get into learned patterns! Thank goodness I have a supportive husband and in-laws that have been supportive in my healing process. Nevertheless, tomorrow, Mother’s Day, will be hurtful for me. For the first time ever, I didn’t send her flowers or a card this year. I sort a mix of guilt and power all wrapped up in one emotion. Anyway, it is nice to know I am not alone! Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

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  6. Wow, that’s incredible that a mom could not want her own daughter to go to college, but to be there for her instead. Man. Do they even hear what they say?

    My mother projects this victim mentality to outsiders to get their sympathy, but she’s cold as ice to us.

    In 1998 I got a scholarship to study in Russia. I was gone nearly 4 months. When I got back, she didn’t ask me a single question about my trip, even though I was brandishing gifts. When I mentioned that to her, she said she’d never traveled…so that was her excuse. And when I tried to show her pictures, she was just like, “mmm hmmm,’ then complained that her arm hurt — she could no longer hold photos. (This is also her excuse for not calling me…at least when we were still talking).

    And I remember in 1994, after knee surgery (I was 18), I recuperated at her home before going off to college in NY. I’d spent the night in the hospital, and so the following night, I was in pain from all the drugs. My leg was in a cast, and she had put me in my stepdad’s room upstairs. So at 10 p.m. or so, I was hobbling downstairs to get to the bathroom. All was dark and quiet (she sleeps down there in another room), but when I opened the bathroom door, she scared the hell out of me by screaming from the bath, “JESUS CHRIST!” I apologized for interrupting her bath time, but explained that I was in pain from the drugs wearing off; I couldn’t wait. She was so offended that I dare infringe upon her ‘me’ time that she stormed off in a huff, never asking how I felt.

    She seems filled with hate and has always directed it at me, my stepdad, etc. For a long time we had two mentally handicapped ladies living with us, as my mom took care of them as a job (she couldn’t handle having a boss or working in the real world). She would scream at them condescendingly when they had incontinent issues, etc. This is what I grew up with during my teen years.

    Just so many instances of this behavior from her. And another classic thing that she did: she never allowed me privacy. She would walk in on me all the time in my bedroom, or try to ‘catch’ me watching ‘Real Sex” on HBO…stuff like that. She would tip toe up the stairs and throw the door open to see if I was watching it.

    And after I left for college, she found my diary from when I was 16 in the trash. Of course she read it cover-to-cover, then dared to bring it to my attention when i called to Say Hi, telling me she couldn’t believe some of the things I’d said in it. I told her it wasn’t her business, and she said, ‘my garbage, my property.”

    Mental illness also runs in her family.

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    1. Debra, Awful how you were treated. Thank you for your comment and for sharing your story.

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  7. Thank you for this. And your song is lovely, such a beautiful voice.

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    1. Zoe, Thank you for your comment and for your kind words about my song and my voice. I appreciate it more than you can imagine! 🙂 With love, Roxanne

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