When you grow up with a narcissistic mother, you grow up thinking you are never good enough. You can’t put your finger on why you always want to be perfect, yet you do. And you try tirelessly. You are studious, happy, cuddly, and kind. You never deviate from what your parents expect in school, with friends, in every aspect of life.
When you grow up with a narcissistic mother, you cannot figure out why you are not good enough. Why she yells at you when you know you did nothing wrong, why you are punished at age 17. Your peers go out and drink, party, and more. Yet you, in all your goodness, are sent to your room right after dinner for being “fresh.”
When you grow up with a narcissistic mother, you really believe that you are flawed. Your teachers may rave about your work and your personality: “She is so kind! Everyone wants to be with her. She is bright and funny.” But your mother jokes over and over: “Ha, you fooled another one, didn’t you?”
When you grow up with a narcissistic mother, you start to think no one is good enough for you, and at the same time, you are not good enough for anyone else. It makes no sense to say it out loud, but believe me — if you grew up with a narcissistic mother, you would understand.
When your mother says, “You don’t need me to come to your gymnastics meet. You are not really that good, right?” you don’t know what to say. But you know that you would feel a lot better if someone had been there to see you win your first — and only — first place medal. No one knows that you can do a roundoff double back handspring, or even what song you chose for your routine.
When you grow up with a narcissistic mother, you know that birthday gifts you give are thoughtless, not good enough. You may be “her favorite child” who always remembers her birthday, but an hour later, you are the one who is unkind and selfish, no matter what she does for you.
When you grow up with a narcissistic mother, you see your mother is at her finest when you are at your lowest. She thrives on your sadness. Problems with friends? Wow! It hurts her so much she actually defends you. Problems with school? Teachers? She will help out and swoop in to chat with the principal. She is supportive. See? No need to doubt her love or devotion. She is there for you when you need her.
When you grow up with a narcissistic mother, you realize that you don’t have to hide your diary from your little siblings; you need to hide it from your mother. You notice her getting angry at you for not telling her things she could only know by reading your diary. You see your mother become angry that she had to hear from a friend that you were not going to the prom with your new “boyfriend” because he dumped you for someone he liked better. She says that you hurt her by not telling her, and she ignores that you are hurting inside because the boy chose someone else.
You go to college. You have some fights with your mother, but who doesn’t? When you come home on break, your mother offers to pay for Weight Watchers because, really, did you know you gained so much that your face looks too round? You were so pretty before. And you don’t even drink — how did you gain so much weight?
After college, you decide to go to out of state for graduate school. You defy your parents’ wishes; they wanted you to stay near them where they would have paid for your rent. Now you must take out loans to pay for housing in Manhattan and your master’s degree. Good luck to you, my dear. You will see how easy you could have had it.
When you graduate and get your first job, your narcissistic mother can’t be happy for you. She is jealous. She says she doesn’t understand why the young people get all the good jobs. If it weren’t for people like you, she would have gotten the job she wanted. Anyway, the only reason you got a good job is that she raised you with the self-esteem and confidence she wishes she had. You should thank her.
And then…and then it all changes. You meet the man of your dreams. He loves you for you, even though you know “You are not an easy person to live with. Good luck to him.” Your mother has convinced your family that he is using you — for your family money (What?! Really? He is a Wall Street banker) or your citizenship (“Obviously he just needs his green card. Be careful”).
When you decide to get married, your parents throw the wedding of your mother’s dreams. The wedding has her guests and her favorite flowers. When the florist asks your favorite flower, you say tulip. Your mother says you must be mistaken — who likes tulips that much? So you choose something else. You even wear your mother’s dress because, really, the current styles will not be flattering on you anyway with the weight you have yet to lose from college. When your mother was your age she weighed 98 pounds, so you are lucky that her dress even fits.
Then you have children. One of your children is born on Mother’s Day. Your mother flies cross-country with the ticket you bought her since she was kind enough to put her life on hold and come and help you when she can — if she is not using the pilates membership you felt you should get her to say thank you. She pulls aside your husband, the kindest man there is, and tells him that she is angry with you. How could you forget Mother’s Day? Where is her gift? And so your husband says you really should do something for your mother. Why cause tension? So you drive to the shops four-days postpartum and plan and cook a brunch with balloons and homemade waffles and gifts.
It takes years upon years for you to figure it out, but finally you do: You are the daughter of a narcissistic mother. And over the years, more will happen. She will belittle your parenting. She will talk about you behind your back, to your siblings, to your husband, to your father, to your children. She will tell your sweet children that they are “little miss big mouths” when they defend you, when they tell your mother that, no, we will not keep secrets from each other.
You will fight with all of your siblings, your mother, your father. Your parents will tell you that they did so much for you, that they were the best parents one could have — was your life really so bad? And you will say, no…no, I had everything I wanted. Except your acceptance. And your unconditional love.
And you will try every day of your life for the rest of your life to break the cycle. You know this is how your mother was raised, and maybe her mother before her. But you will not become your mother. The mere fact that you are questioning how to make your relationship with your daughters better than what you have with your mother, well, it proves that you are on a different path. At least this is what I am telling myself.