I’ve suspected for a while that something was off about my mother emotionally. I started suspecting when I was nineteen, but even though I suspected, I didn’t feel brave enough to truly entertain the thought. After all, my mother had always been the only friend I’d had. She was – as she frequently reminded me – the only person who could ever understand me. The only person who loved me (every time I had the audacity to cry about something, she’d give a speech chronicling all the selfless things she’s ever done for me). She was the only person who could truly comfort me because she was miserable all through childhood just like I was so only she could really comprehend my struggles. So I felt guilty for even thinking that something might be wrong with her. How could the only person in the whole world who could ever understand me and love me for who I am possibly have something wrong with them?
Then I started by first year of college (when I was twenty-one; late bloomer, I know), and one of my classes focused on and went into great detail about dysfunctional families. I was fascinated. But in a concerned kind of way. Because many of the traits talked about in class were dead ringers for what was considered expected and normal behavior in my family. It scared me to think that what I was used to as everyday life actually met many of the criteria for dysfunction. I didn’t want to believe it at first, but over the past few years I had been growing reluctantly suspicious. My mom and I had happened to be in a little riff about something anyway (I don’t even remember what), but I thought it would be worth a shot to try and show her my notes from class and discuss them with her, hoping that what had been eye-opening information for me would help us in resolving said riff. I wanted to try and calmly, rationally, and reasonably open her eyes to the possibility that maybe she was just treating me wrong and overreacting. Because it had been becoming increasingly obvious to me over the years that it seemed strange that I was always the only one who was wrong and overreacting in situations. It had been becoming increasingly obvious to me that maybe it could just be that my mom was the one who was wrong/overreacting sometimes. For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t always my fault.
The fact that she blew a gasket, only agreed to listen to me after I – face red with tears – fearfully pointed out that, “The way you’re acting and treating me right now is exactly what my professor says is unhealthy and dysfunctional!” and then afterwards proceeded to yell at me for talking about personal private family matters with a professor and disrespecting her reputation without her permission and then forbidding me to ever speak to another professor or anyone at school about her again… should have been hardcore proof enough for me that something unhealthy was definitely going on.
But I let myself feel guilty. I let myself blame myself. I let myself feel awful for ruining my mom’s life and for being so thoughtless as to disrespect her like that by having the nerve to voice my concerns about her behavior to an important adult in my life (I really respected that professor and enjoyed his class very much). I let myself give in to her fragile emotional outbursts, and sank obediently back into the role of “scapegoat” into which I had been passive-aggressively conditioned all my life.
But the tickle of the thought that I had been on to something remained.
Then last year, the way my mother treated me – all the things she did to me – made me realize that there is most definitely and undeniably something very unhealthy here, and I began doing more research on dysfunctional family relationships. Recently a coworker of mine (one of the few people in my life not brainwashed by my controlling mother’s manipulative ways) alerted me to the fact that she noticed a lot of evidence of Narcissistic Personality Disorder in what she’d heard of my mother’s behavior. I had never really thought of my mother as a narcissist before, so it had never occurred to me to associate her with the disorder. But I began researching it a few weeks ago, and while my mother doesn’t seem to be a full-blown narcissist, there are several definite traits of the disorder that she has exhibited very strongly and very, very consistently all throughout my life:
When discussing life issues with your mother, she diverts the discussion to talk about herself. (If I went to her for comfort about being nervous at school or not knowing how to make friends, it turned into a therapy session in which I was the therapist and she whined at me about how miserable she used to be at school. All under the guise of, “I’m telling you this to show I understand you.”)
Your mother acts jealous of you. (My mother shared my private writing I think as a way to exploit me to get attention for her own writing. She pitched a fit when people I guess weren’t impressed with her work and treated me coldly for days, and I had no idea why.)
Your mother blames things on you or others rather than own responsibility for her feelings or actions. (My mother sneaked into my room, stole the chip containing all my writing from over the years, shared it with everyone in my life, and when I had the nerve to be upset about it, she denied it ever happened and blamed me, even going so far as to manipulate doctors into labeling me multiple various different psychotic disorders. She took no responsibility for what she did to me. She’s even tried to blame me for her actions, implying that I shouldn’t have left my chip where she could’ve so easily stolen it.)
Your mother is easily hurt and then carries a grudge for a long time without resolving the problem. (Even as early as five years old, I learned that just looking at my mother the wrong way could hurt her feelings. Once I was in a mood [as most five year-olds frequently are] and she took it so personally that she accused me of not loving her. I hated myself so much for making my own mother feel that way. I learned early on to hide all emotion to keep her loving me and to keep from hurting her feelings. The only times I was allowed to really feel or cry about anything in her presence was if I lied and disguised the reason I was crying so that she felt needed and important and lavished with love and compliments: if I cried about anything that annoyed her or she didn’t want to hear about, I was taught to believe my grief wasn’t real or that I should just stop crying and get over it. Feeling was only allowed if it didn’t inconvenience her.)
Your mother wants to control your choices. (Oh my god, this is a big one. This ranges from “she has the right to decide for me who I should date” to “she has the right to decide for me when and how my personal writing gets shared with the world”. She’s very good at manipulating though [though like most narcissists, she accuses everyone else – including me, the victim of her manipulations – of being manipulative instead], so she has almost everyone in my life, from friends to family members to coworkers, attentively listening to and believing whatever she says about me. And she’s convinced herself she’s doing this out of love and concern. Despite the fact that I’ve been screaming at her for over a year to just back the fuck off if she really loves me and let me live my own life, she still won’t listen.)
Your mother swings from egotistical to a depressed mood. (She’ll go from bashing anyone successful who she thinks doesn’t deserve it because she can do so much better than them [my mom has this irrational jealousy of J.K. Rowling and will never just admit the woman’s talented as hell because my mom is convinced she “could’ve done better”; she’s the same way about Margaret Mitchell – she can’t just say the woman was talented and wrote a fantastic novel, she has to constantly remind everyone that she was “just a one-hit-wonder”], to wallowing in self-pity and seeking validation and reassurance from my sister and me. Unfortunately, we’ve grown up thinking this totally natural and normal for kids to be the parents for the parent.)
You had to take care of your mother’s emotional needs as a child. (Walked on eggshells around her emotionally all my life. I find it hilarious [and insulting and hurtful as hell] that she now bitches about having to “walk on eggshells” around me because of all the drama she’s caused and put me through. I wouldn’t be in this emotional wreck if she had just respected my boundaries and not shared anything without my consent and then proceeded to antagonize me with constant reminders of what she did by having literally every person in my life – from coworkers to random strangers who visit my place of work as guests – be involved in the invasion of privacy that she started [oh, but still while completely denying she ever did anything wrong].)
Your mother is controlling, acting like a victim or a martyr. (She destroys my life and relationships, any feeling of security and privacy, throws my entire world into chaos… but I’m the one who’s being unfair and treating her unreasonably because she’s only doing this out of love and I’m just sick in the head because I can’t possibly be legitimately angry with my poor, sweet, innocent mother for anything because if I show any kind of emotion toward her that isn’t contented, happy ass-kissing it must mean I’m unstable and hate her for no reason, right?)
Your mother makes you act different from how you really feel. (When someone broke my heart last year, I had to act like it didn’t bother me because my mother didn’t want to hear about it. And I knew that if I ever did actually grieve like I needed to, I would be punished. This was proven when, last November, I actually let myself feel emotions about the privacy invasion my mother committed against me by sharing things I wrote with everyone in my life. Because I had the audacity to be legitimately upset at what she’d done to me, she had me hospitalized for being “unstable”. I am not allowed to feel anything around my mother that she doesn’t approve of because if I do, I get punished.)
Your mother competes with you. (I’m starting to think my mom must have been jealous I wrote something better than her or something, because she displayed very competitive behaviors, such as trying to take credit for things that I had imagined on my own and that she had no connection to. She tried to take credit for my writing by claiming that she had taught me everything I knew [completely disrespecting the fact that everything I know about writing, I taught myself from my early teens on via internet research and practicing writing stories with online friends who were also teaching themselves the craft the same way]. She tried to take credit for scenes in my stories, and for ideas I had, grasping at straws to figure out what in my real life must have inspired them, instead of just acknowledging that I – like most real writers – am creative enough to come up with stuff on my own without resorting to the infantile and amateur parlor trick of using real life as inspiration. She thinks that just because she’s not creative enough to be able to imagine things that never happened or occurred to her, I must not be either. Not only did she invade my privacy and steal from me, she actively prevented me from even being given credit for my abilities. I’m starting to think her behavior is rooted in jealousy.)
Your mother always has to have things her way. (My sister and I learned early on that everything has to be our mother’s way. If we wanted to watch something that Mom didn’t like – even if she didn’t want to watch TV at all – she would sulk and passive aggressively gripe in the next room over, and any time my sister and I had the nerve to laugh or comment or enjoy ourselves while watching what we wanted, we’d hear, “God damn it, can you guys turn it down? Jesus Christ!” And we’d be afraid to enjoy ourselves the rest of the night.)
She accuses another person of exactly what she (the narcissist) is doing: being passive aggressive, being controlling, being manipulative and sneaky, etc… (This is my mother so much: she is the one who has been passive aggressive, over controlling and unforgivably manipulative all this past year of my life… but every time she gets wind that it’s pretty obvious to me what she’s doing and has organized, she makes sure that I’m the one who gets blamed for being “controlling and manipulative”. Seriously, this is one of my biggest “what the fuck?” issues with her. She is the one doing all this to me, but because I have the nerve to notice and get pissed off at her behavior, she denies everything and projects her behaviors onto me, the victim.)
She compares you with another sibling or other person. (She’s been very bad about comparing me to my sister ever since I became a teenager. My sister has always been more outgoing and observably friendly than I’ve been, and my mother’s weak ego eats it up. One time my mother actually had my sister tell me that, when interacting with my mother, if I didn’t want her to get mad at me so much, I needed to just be more bubbly and friendly. Basically, my mom had my sister tell me that in order to keep my mom from getting pissy with me, I had to change my personality and become my mom’s personal cheerleader/babysitter. I’m pretty sure my sister’s taken up the role of the golden child: the kid who can do no wrong. And unfortunately, despite being so favored, the golden child gets bullied and damaged in their own way. Mostly in that they learn to defend their abusers [my sister has always defended our mother whenever I pointed out our mother’s unhealthy behavior, always taken her side and accused me of being selfish and mean and rude, etc… and now my sister has moved on to defending an abusive boyfriend and I can definitely see why she has such a hard time noticing abuse even when it’s right in front of her].)
She projects her feelings/habits/behaviors onto you to the point where you feel guilty and worry you’re actually behaving that way. (My mom gets her feelings hurt by things as minor as me not smiling at her if we pass in the hall, or me not saying goodnight to her. Her ego is so fragile and it’s always my fault that it gets wounded and she makes sure I know it. Because it’s never her that’s the problem, it’s always me: “Why are you always in such a bad mood?” “Why do you always have to have your way?” “You are always so over sensitive to everything!” Yeah, mom. I’m the problem.)
“Because her abusiveness is part of a lifelong campaign of control and because she is careful to rationalize her abuse, it is extremely difficult to explain to other people what is so bad about her. Usually because she has other people perfectly fooled. She is also careful about when and how she engages in her abuses, and will punish you for telling anyone else what she’s done (just like how she yelled at me for seeking help from a professor about our family problems). She’ll slam you to other people, try to raise herself up by sharing personal and embarrassing things about you to keep you in your place and keep you vulnerable and looking bad next to her, but she will always make the slamming look loving and full of worry, embedding her devaluing nuggets of snide gossip with protestations of concern, love and understanding (“I feel so sorry for poor Cynthia. She always seems to have such a hard time, but I just don’t know what I can do for her!”) As a consequence, the children of narcissists universally report that no one believes them (“No way your mother’s like that! She ALWAYS talks about YOU in the most caring and loving way!”) Unfortunately therapists, given the deniable actions of the narcissist and eager to defend a fellow parent, will often jump to the narcissist’s defense as well, reinforcing your sense of isolation and helplessness (“I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that!”)
^ This. I know the HIPAA laws and I know which loopholes and exceptions my mother is exploiting in order to have every word in my therapy sessions divulged to her. Words she then happily divulges to everyone in my life as she feels needed (the words usually twisted, misinterpreted, and taken horribly out of context to make me look bad) because I guess it makes her feel important and in control. And she knows how to manipulate to make it sound like she’s doing it out of love. And my therapists always listen to and believe her, because of everything in the article above.
And she wonders why I have panic attacks. She wonders why I’m miserable and feel so isolated and alone and hopeless. I can’t escape her. She’s everywhere and she manipulates other people into being everywhere around me. This woman has taken my life away and she rationalizes it to herself and others by claiming to do it out of love.
Sorry, I know I said no more ranting journals for a while, but I really needed to vent so I'm just posting this here because I have no one in my life to talk to directly and openly about this stuff (my mom made sure of that).