Or Why You Need to Let Go of Your Dream of an Ideal Mother
If you are struggling to come in terms with your story, and healing your wounds from a toxic relationship with your narcissistic mother is still a dream, then, this article is for you.
– Haven't I told you not to marry him? But you never listen! You think you're so smart you don't need your head!
– You always know how to stick a finger into the wound. You're hurting me, mother, can't you see?
– Nonsense, you're too sensitive! Just listen to me, I know what's best for you.
As kids, we loved our mums more than anything in the world, and all we wanted was for them to love us back. We not only needed their love to survive but to learn how to love, respect and take care of ourselves – the essential skills for our happiness as adults.
We couldn't understand why they ignored our feelings or criticized everything we did. Or, why they were moody and unpredictable, angry at the entire world that didn't treat them the way they deserved. So, we never had the chance to comprehend why couldn't they be warm and kind to us – all we wanted was their unconditional love.
We became confused and worried that something was fundamentally wrong with us. I'm unlovable became a belief that many of us took into our adult relationships.
As grownups, we still try to earn our mother's love and acceptance – we study hard hoping that good education will make them proud. We help everyone who wants our help and often build our carriers around helping others.
Despite feeling small and unimportant every time we're with our moms, we keep coming back driven by guilt, obligation and hope that one day they might change and become mothers we want them to be.
One Way to Get Stuck
How do I know? I've been there, too.
Since the beginning of my recovery, new memories have started to resurface. These memories continuously add colourful stokes to complete the entire picture of my childhood.
As little, I was often sick and couldn't stay in kindergarten, so Mum had to take free from work and studies, sometimes for weeks. The episode I'm going to tell you about happened when I was about 4 or 5 years old. Mum and I were on the way home from a doctor's office. I remember looking up at her – she was tall and beautiful, I thought. So I said: "You're the most beautiful Mum in the world."
And Mum said … nothing.
Sadness, shame and guilt of that experience survived through the time somewhere in the depth of my emotional brain. I was longing for a closer connection with my beloved mother, for a kind word or even sight. What I got was triumphant silence.
Looking back at my healing, I realized that at some point, I was stuck because I couldn't give up the hope for Mum to change into a beautiful, kind woman I wanted her to be. I was a psychologist, for God's sake, how come I couldn't help her to transform and show her best!
This hope kept me stuck until Mum's memories became devoured by her illness and my desire for a change disappeared like a morning haze in the sun.
I had to mourn her even though she was still alive.
The story did not end there, but I couldn't have known that.
Change is Yours to Make
If you want to move on with your healing, you must accept this:
- the only person you have the power to change is you
- your mother's growth is up to her; and if she chooses to stay the self-absorbed, controlling, difficult person she is, let her. Let go and move on.
Accepting this and grieving the loss of the mother you've never had, and the childhood you're not allowed to experience will get you unstuck. And here's why.
There're 5 stages of grieving developed by Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to describe the loss in a traditional way, for example when someone dies or loses her health: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Karyl McBride, PhD and author of a bestselling book Will I ever be good enough? suggested rearranging these stages to use them for recovery from growing up with a narcissistic mother.
I agree with her suggestion, except for details. Here's how I see it.
Stages of Grief for Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents
To survive as children, we had to deny the reality that our mothers couldn't give us unconditional love. But we desperately needed it to survive and grow – denial was necessary to keep us alive.
If you still can't believe that your mother doesn't have what you need, you have to begin to see reality, regardless of how scary it seems. You will soon realize that nobody can give what they don't have, so there's nothing to expect – it’s time to let go.
Same here, I'm afraid.
"Yes, mummy, I'll do as you say but please, speak with me." (I can't stand the silence.)
"Yes, mum, I get it. If I ever again want to marry someone, I'll ask your opinion first." (Please, stop blaming me for the fiasco of my first marriage.)
We've been bargaining with our narcissistic mothers as long as any of us remember, replaying past confrontations in our minds, unable to fall asleep. Or pleading with them "life" and losing again, feeling ashamed and frustrated.
"We have been wishing and hoping that they will change, they will be different the next time we need them. We have tried many things over the years to win their love and approval." – Karyl McBryde
The next stage is necessary to put an end to this denial and bargain.
Acceptance must come after you figure out the problem and see the reality's ugly face. Realizing that your mother has limited capacity for love and empathy is hard to swallow, I agree, although this is the only way to end denial and bargain and learn how to own, feel and process your feelings.
It's going to take time, but without acceptance, you won't be able to heal. Sorry.
"I'm so angry with my family" is a common statement. And most of us don't like to be angry – they taught us to smile, no matter how we felt. Anger was a forbidden feeling for us to show and feel.
They didn't recognize or dismissed our feelings and emotional needs – no wonder, we are angry with our mothers! But we are also mad at ourselves – why didn't we say no and stopped the abuse or neglect long ago? Why are we stuck in this foggy misery instead of enjoying our lives?
"We feel intense sadness that we have to let go of the hope for and the vision of the kind of parent we wanted. We realize that they will never be as loving as we want them to be. We feel like orphans or un-parented children. We let go of all expectations. We grieve the loss of the vision of these expectations." – Karyl McBride
She Did Her Best, But It Wasn't Good Enough
Remember that moving away or going without contact will, at best, only give you temporary relief. What you need is internal work, and only you can do it.
However, without acceptance, you will be stuck in denial, hoping for a miracle. First, when you recognize that your mother doesn't have what you're longing for, you will be able to process feelings of anger, depression and loss. Finally, you can take the next step toward your healing.
Grieving is a process and acceptance is the key.
"Remember that recovery is about you. It is not about what you are doing with your narcissistic parents. That comes later when you have done your own work. This is simple, but important." – Karyl McBride
Be patient, but persistent.
You can do it!
P.S. Where are you in your journey? Right now, what do you need the most to get unstuck? Let me know – just send me an email.