The Daughter of a Narcissist


Mother's Day 2016. I stood in front of the racks of cards, staring at them. I picked them up one by one: "A Mother's Heart Makes a Home." No. "Mother, You Are My Best Friend." Um, no way. "For a Precious Mom." I wish. "For a Mom who sacrificed so much." Nope, nope, nope.

After 47 years, I finally knew why trying to pick a card out for my mother was impossible. Every card was a lie. Nothing I picked up could explain my mother. After 47 years, I finally knew. I am the daughter of a narcissist. They don't make a card for that.

Keeping Up Appearances

As a child, I knew my mom was different from other mothers. There was nothing nurturing about her. She didn't give hugs, she didn't wipe tears, she didn't help with homework or go to parent-teacher conferences.

For the most part, she didn't interact with me at all unless she was angry with me. I could never be certain of her mood, and each morning I woke up with a pain in my chest, wondering what the day would hold. I envied other little girls who had a mom who actually wanted to spent time with them. While other girls complained when their mom wanted to take them out for ice cream and cut short our play time, I longed for that. While my friends were embarrassed when their mothers taught them about sex or periods, I was handed a book—there was no talk.

My mother did, however, shop for me. I had the prettiest clothes from the best stores. Other girls had plastic dolls from Venture or K-Mart; I had Madame Alexander dolls. A friend receive a small Noah's Ark for her birthday that I adored, and on my birthday, I received one that was ten times larger. I assumed this was her way of showing love.

I always stayed on her good side because if I wasn't, there were beatings and verbal abuse. I learned to be quiet, and I learned to anticipate and read moods. And I learned that my feelings should be kept inside—because the feelings of others were more important, and how I appeared to everyone else was important to my mother. I had to be the smartest, the best dressed, the most polite. Instead, I became afraid to speak or interact with others because I didn't feel I could ever be good enough.

Fear, Anxiety, and Abuse

My dad, thankfully, was everything my mom was not. They divorced when I was 16 years old, and my mother left my sister and me with my dad. Sadly, I felt nothing but relief after their divorce. A weight was lifted, and I didn't have to live in fear each day. She rarely contacted my sister or me, so trying to be the "good daughter," I would call her often. When I graduated high school, she did not attend; she simply didn't see why it was necessary. When I got engaged, she didn't come to the bridal shower, and when I was married, she was not at the wedding. People were incredulous when they found out, but to me, it was nothing different and I didn't expect more from her.

Deep down, I knew it was very odd, and I began to promise myself I would never be like her. My kids would know me, they would spend time with me, and they would be able to talk to me about anything. I would be everything she wasn't.


But as an adult, despite not being around my mother much, the results of having a narcissistic parent ran rampant through my life. I was extremely intuitive about the emotions of others, and their feelings could make or break my day. I could go to work, sense a bad mood in someone, and instantly have my anxiety arise. I never felt confident in myself, and I would hide in my house, afraid the neighbors would talk about me or judge me in some way. I was terrified to make phone calls for fear I would say the wrong thing. I revolved my life around my first husband out of fear he would leave me, and ultimately, he did.

I went to therapy for a while after my ex-husband left me with a toddler and a preschooler, and it did help me regain some confidence. I remarried (no, my mother was not in attendance), and I vowed my kids would have a mother who was involved in their lives and whose love they would never doubt.

Finding Freedom

For the most part, things went well. I still struggled with anxiety, I worried what people thought, and I had fears. But I did my best to teach my children to be confident in themselves, and I helped with homework, took them on adventures, and sat through hours of dance classes and ice skating lessons. I had a job that allowed me to be home when they were home. We would visit my mother once a year (she had moved out of state), and she would spoil the children with gifts. Generally, all she did was talk about who in her family she was mad at, or she would tell us at great lengths all the good she did in the community for the poor unfortunates around her. She went to Walmart decked out in jewelry, looking the part of the wealthiest person in town.

When my oldest was diagnosed with anxiety at age 15, my mother had no sympathy. The last time we saw her, in August 2015, my mother was horrible to my daughter. Despite knowing my daughter had anxiety, my mother mocked her makeup, made fun of her at every opportunity, then laughed at her when she started to cry. It was an eye-opener. I allowed my mother to treat me that way my entire life, but to see it happening to my own child was more than I could bear.

Less than a year later, once my youngest daughter also started having panic attacks, I sought counseling. This therapist had my mother pegged in one visit: she is a narcissist. Her desire to shower me with gifts was not for me, but it was to show the world that she could afford to do so. I always had the best of everything because it made my mother look important. She is not capable of feeling the attachment that a child craves. There is no emotional connection. And there never will be. A narcissist cannot recognize themselves for what they are, so they will not seek help. Their victims, however, need help.

Finally having a name for her was freeing for me. It allowed me to mourn what I never had and never will have—a loving mother. It also helped me to see that, in trying to be what my mother was not, I had overcompensated. I was over-helping my children. I never wanted them to feel the way I had, so I tried to fix everything for them. And the more I did, the more my own anxiety and panic increased.

Letting Go, Setting Boundaries

I had to learn that not being my mother didn't have to mean losing myself and fixing every broken thing in life. I read the book Boundaries and saw so much of myself. With the help of my therapist, I'm learning that it's okay to stop having contact with my mother. And I haven't. I've sent cards, but they have gone unacknowledged. I haven't called, and I haven't emailed. And she has not contacted me to find out why.

So I'm letting go. I'm letting go of expectations. I'm letting go of gifts she gave me and told me I was not allowed to get rid of, ever. I'm letting go of my desire to fix things for everyone—instead encouraging them to learn how to help themselves (with my support, of course). And in the process of letting go, I'm taking myself back and learning who God created me to be. It's a much different person than the girl my mother raised, and I'm enjoying getting to know her more each day.

So where do I go from here? Well, I've learned a few things from my experiences. First, I learned that the term "narcissist" is overused in our society. Narcissism is a personality disorder, and being self-absorbed is not the same thing. Second, I've learned that it's okay to not have contact with my mother. She is toxic, and she does not have a place in my life. And third, I've learned she will not change. A narcissist cannot understand or accept that they have a problem. The problem is always with someone else. The victims of a narcissist often seek treatment, but the narcissist will not. And finally, despite not having a mother in the traditional sense, I have God. And He fills all my needs. I've learned not to be reliant on my mother to fill voids in my life but to solely seek Jesus. And for that, I am truly grateful.

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