Last week, I wrote about what your life might be like if you were raised by a narcissistic parent. I began describing five steps that can help you heal from your upbringing. The two steps I shared last week are:
- Accepting your parent’s limitations, and
- Processing your feelings about how you were raised.
In today’s blog, I will share steps three through five. These are taken from my book, A Journey to Healing After Emotional Abuse. Note: It is possible for dads or moms to be narcissistic, and their children to be male or female. In this blog, for simplicity of writing, I describe a narcissistic mother and her daughter.
Step 3: Understand Why You Have Struggled Separating from Her
Children of healthy mothers begin to separate from them around age two. This is when a child begins saying “no!” and “mine!” These mothers allow their children to separate from them gradually and naturally. Children of narcissistic mothers never learn to fully separate from them. An ignored child continues to try to fill her need for love by trying to merge with her mother like an infant. Conversely, a child who is engulfed by mother is not allowed to have her own needs, wants, opinions, or feelings. Neither the ignored nor the engulfed child gets her needs met, nor is she really able to develop a sense of herself apart from her mother.
Have you separated from your mother? One way to tell is to ask yourself if you speak negatively to yourself. Do you often think, “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m not strong enough”?
In order to separate from your mother now, you will need to understand how she projects her negative feelings onto you, understand and cope with her envy of you, and eradicate negative self-talk. Let’s explore these three.
Her Negative Feelings
Narcissists appear to be very self-confident. In reality, they are the opposite. Deep down, they loathe themselves, but don’t want to—or can’t—recognize the pain of that feeling. To deal with it, they project this feeling onto those close to them. This is why your mother often criticized (or still does criticize) you. She is projecting the negative things she believes about herself onto you. As a child, you most likely internalized and believed these negative lies she told you. Now, they have most likely become part of what you think about yourself. Understand and accept that this unfair projection was placed on you.
Though she doesn’t show it, your mother is envious of you. She has a very fragile sense of self-esteem. When she sees you succeed in something, it makes her feel bad about herself. The way she feels better about herself is to criticize whatever she feels envious about. For example, perhaps you just bought a house that is bigger than hers. She might criticize the amount of money you “wasted” on it, or the neighborhood it is in, or the “stuck-up” people who live there. In reality, she wishes she lived there.
If your negative self-talk originated from your narcissistic parent, you might find it helpful to consider the source. Now that you realize your mother has no ability to truly love or have empathy for you, projects her self-loathing onto you, and criticizes you because she envies you, it may be easier for you to logically see she is not a good judge of your character. If that is true, why would you listen to her opinion of you and allow her words to be the internal voice you hear inside your head every day?
Step 4: Strengthen Your Internal Being
As a daughter of a narcissistic parent, you may experience what Dr. Karyl McBride* calls a “collapse.” She describes it as someone popping your “self-esteem balloon.” This happens when you feel insulted or invalidated, and it triggers a momentary regression back to your childhood. Old memories of being ignored, demeaned, or humiliated come rushing back, making the current situation feel much bigger than it really is.
Does this happen to you? I know it happens to me. My step-kids most frequently cause my collapses. When my stepdaughter turns her head away and pretends she doesn’t hear me when I ask her a question, my self-esteem plummets, and I feel completely deflated. Her pretending not to hear me brings me back to the time all my elementary school friends thought it would be “fun” to give me the silent treatment for a month—for no reason.
The Internal Mother/Your Heavenly Father
Dr. McBride suggests using an “internal mother” when you have a collapse. Your internal mother would be your own maternal instinct, the intuitive voice that speaks to you and wants to nurture you and mother you. You may have experienced this when you were mothering the young “you” doll I described last week in using doll therapy.
As Christians, we have an even stronger ally than an internal mother, the Holy Spirit who lives within us. Our heavenly Father, through His Spirit, will strengthen your inner being. Tweet This
When you feel yourself collapsing, allow your internal mother, or the Holy Spirit, to remind you of your inner worth and how much you are loved. Picture yourself being held within loving arms, and rocked, like a small child. Try not to focus on the event that caused your collapse. Verbally tell yourself your old experience and your current experience are not the same. “That was then, this is now. This is different. I am in control.” Focus on being unconditionally loved. You will need that feeling as you move to step 5.
Step 5: Empower Yourself to Set Boundaries with Your Mother
If your mother is on the less severe end of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder spectrum, you may be able to tell her your feelings about your childhood and how her mothering affected you then and affects you now. You may even consider bringing her into therapy sessions with you (after discussing this with your counselor).
However, most narcissistic mothers will be unwilling or unable to empathize with you enough to look at their behavior in this way. In this case, your best hope of healing will be to set and hold reasonable boundaries with her behavior. Finding a counselor to help you through this process would be wise.
How Do You Set Boundaries with Your Mother?
You begin by explaining to your mother what behaviors you are no longer willing to accept. For example, if she calls you every day to tell you how to be a better daughter, you may decide this is too intrusive. You might say to her, “Mom, I have a lot on my plate, and I will only have time to talk to you for twenty minutes one day a week.” You can expect her to come back with “How could you?” or “How dare you?” followed by a description of what a terrible, ungrateful daughter you are. Or perhaps she will give you the silent treatment. You want to be prepared for her to react that way and to respond calmly with something like, “I understand this will be a change, and may be difficult for you, but this is what I’ve decided is best for me right now.”
No doubt your mother will call you tomorrow, and she may continue to do so often. (You are wise to simply not answer.) This may go on for the entire week, maybe even for a couple of weeks. However, over time, if you calmly stick to this boundary, she will begin to accept it. If you set boundaries in other areas of your relationship, such as leaving the restaurant where you are having lunch with her if she begins to criticize you, she should begin to treat you with more respect over time.
You Choose the Amount of Contact
You get to decide how much contact you have with your narcissistic mother. Your relationship may range from between relatively close to cordial to businesslike. If your mother is so toxic that having a relationship with her is not worth the strain on your emotions and health, you may decide you need to provide some distance from her life altogether, at least for a time. If she is willing, you can try to reunite with her later, when you feel more emotionally ready to deal with her. Be aware she may not want to reunite with you. You may decide your peace of mind is worth that risk.
What If Your Mother Is Dead?
If your mother is no longer living, you will obviously not need to set boundaries with her. But you may desire to write her a letter, describing your feelings toward her. You can then destroy the letter or symbolically “mail” it to her by putting it at her gravesite.
Growing up with a narcissistic parent will leave scars. Facing the truth about our parent(s), and setting boundaries with her or him, will empower us to move into a healthier future. Tweet This
God designed the parent to child relationship to be one of care and love. Ephesians 6:4 instructs parents:
Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
If you are an adult, it is too late for your narcissistic parent to raise you well. You can however, raise your children differently than you were raised.
Question: Does the idea of setting boundaries with your narcissistic parent make you anxious? What are you afraid will happen?
I pray this blog will help you find the courage to begin healing from being raised by your narcissistic parent.
Bless you all,
*Karyl McBride, Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers (New York: Free Press, 2008).