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I think my mother is narcissistic and I don't know how to feel about it.(84 Posts)
I've been doing a lot of reading recently and I'm pretty certain that my mother is narcissistic. What she has always said about herself is that she's extremely introverted, anxious, unlucky and a very nice person who has made a lot of sacrifices.
What it's really been like...she acts as if she is superior to EVERYBODY. Whole groups of people are generalised about, for example all teachers are idiots. She is preoccupied with class and looks down on anybody she considers lower class than her, using pretty dreadful terms. She despises anybody upper class too. She dislikes strangers, neighbours, attractive women, people on TV.
She is always right and cannot take any form of disagreement or criticism. Even gentle banter will upset her. As a child/teen I used to stand up to her, but this just got me labelled as a difficult, horrible person. She regularly told me that I was mentally ill and that she thought I was schizophrenic (I'm not). I realise now that I was the classic scapegoat. As an adult I've learnt to deal with her by just tiptoeing around her, agreeing with her, massaging her ego, walking on eggshells. If I were to challenge her on anything she'd start having a panic attack.
She is an absolute victim who believes she has it worse than anybody else, ever. She talks constantly about her health problems (which I'm sure are real but none of which are serious.) Phrases I grew up hearing, thousands of times - "the gods have got it in for me", "somebody has put a curse on me", "I won't make old bones". Things which other people would regard as an inconvenient yet normal part of life, such an appliance breaking, she seemingly can't cope with. She won't look forward to holidays or christmas because she's convinced she'll be ill.
Everything is about her. When I ring her (and it's always that way round, she never rings me) the entire conversation revolves around her health and problems. If I were to ring her tomorrow and tell her I was getting divorced, I know exactly what her reaction would be. She can't cope with this right now. Why is this happening to her.
I realise that I am constantly seeking her approval. When I book holidays, buy furniture, clothes, change my hair - lots of things - I'm hoping that she will approve of my choices. Sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn't. She often turns her nose up at things, such as what I cook. I can only imagine the absolute shitstorm if I did the same. An ironic one recently was about my house. I always make sure it's super clean and tidy when she comes round. She told me disdainfully that it's like a showhome and clearly I have too much time on my hands! I can't win.
Not that she comes round often, I'm usually the one to do the running. She's always too busy or too stressed. A phone call will often start with her huffing that she can't talk for long. There's always this feeling that there's something more important than me. If she's going on holiday in the coming fortnight, or has an appointment in the coming week, she cannot see me at all. It's too stressful for her. If I were to question this (I don't) I would be told that I don't understand.
My dad I think has been the enabler. As a teen, if I stood up to her, he would come and be very nice to me but urge me to go and apologise. He would acknowledge that I might not have done anything wrong, but this was the way it had to be. I think he is scared of her wrath and will do anything to keep the peace.
Perhaps unusually from what I've read, I have a good relationship with my siblings as adults. I don't think I could talk to them about any of this though as I suspect they would just defend her.
So....I just don't know how to feel now. I love my mum and a lot of the time (as long as I'm careful) I like her too. She can be very funny, intelligent and I can have interesting conversations with her. But only if I'm very careful. I feel disloyal for posting all of this. I think the only way forward is to carry on and remember that she can't help the way she is. But I think it's going to be so much harder from now on.
I think it's going to be easier as you have realised what you are dealing with now and will be able to put boundaries in place!
There is lots of helpful info online, books (will post titles later) and the stately home threads here are helpful too
There are a lot of narc mothers around to varying degrees - you are not alone and some are (eventually) quite manageable!
And agree your sibs might not be the best Ines to talk with!
I felt relief. It wasn't me. I wasn't a horrible person. It was all on her warped mind.
Was a great moment
Seriously though often feel I am in a similar situation and go for the line of least resistance as I want the day to be a good day. I have had to learn to distance my self a little and not rise to the bait not sure this is the best approach but I don't family days to be awkward.
Japonica - bit of distance/boundaries and not rising to it are my own mantras!
Sounds like my mother has an identical twin.
Life is so much nicer without her in it but unfortunately it means that I am the black sheep of the family. The only relative who wants to know me is being kept from me by my parents.
Japonica, Phoenix, I only have one sister, which one of you is it?
Seriously, this is my mum too. Eggshells. All about her. Nothing is ever right/good enough. Enabling DF. She gives me her old clothes so that I can look a bit smarter when I am at work (she has never seen me at work, I have a sense of style, I do not look better in the cast offs of a woman thirty years older and ten inches shorter...).
I realise that I am constantly seeking her approval
Ah - well that's the crux of the matter really, isn't it?
You see, you don't actually need her approval to live your life the way you want to. You don't have to please her all the time. You can choose. Whether you want to seek her approval or not is your decision. Once you begin to accept that the choice is yours, a great weight will be lifted from your shoulders
This brought tears to my eyes. I identify so strongly with most of this. The part about having a good relationship as long as I'm careful... it's so bloody sad. I didn't learn how to be myself until my 20s.
I don't know what to do about it though. I can't talk to my only sibling - they are exactly like her, continuing the cycle. Any attempt to discuss the past just reinforces me as the bad one, the trouble maker.
Olivia - be glad, some people only wake up to this/start being themselves in their 40s...
OP - I read a few helpful books on this: this helped with a moderately narcissistic mother (sounds like what you have)
'When you and your mother can't be friends '
'Will I ever be good enough - healing the daughters of narcissistic mothers '
And 'who is pulling your strings'
1 would probably help! You don't need to read the whole bookshelf!
With that, some discussion of it in counselling, learning to have boundaries, and some good 'mother alternatives' in my life (a kindly boss in my case) things are very different now than they were a few years ago: I have confidence in myself, don't need her approval, have mourned not having a more nurturing mother as a child and learned how to take the good and leave the bad in our current relationship: it takes time, but it can be done x
OP I could have written your post, down to enabling dad and non-stop health scares.
I'm not sure my way of handling things is right, but it works for me.
I've substantially reduced contact - I had it with religiously phoning every Sunday only to hear that it's too hot, she's not well, the dog's not well, no-one invited her for this or that holiday.
When I fly over (parents are abroad), I stay outside the home. Obviously the first time I did this, she was straight out to the oncologist for her latest ailment (he found nothing). No excuses. Her illnesses such as they are, are not my problem.
My mind is elsewhere when I do speak to her, so I can "uh huh" and "hmm, right" as needed without getting invested when she attacks or insults me.
The way she is, and the (pretty fucked up) life my dad leads to enable her, are not my fault. I am not responsible for her happiness. I am not obliged to swallow her crap. I will not put up with anything that I'd not put up with from a friend or acquaintance. And repeat. If she leaves "my" inheritance (which she's always on about) to the local donkey sanctuary, good luck to those donkeys.
It's hard though. I found out recently that I am pregnant, and I'm dreading telling them (though I've put a mental fiver down on her developing a hysterical illness that lasts seven-ish months).
OP I think coming to the conclusions that you have can be the start of a way forwards for you. Try to remember you can do things more on your own terms with some boundaries and that it's not your fault.
That's true Satsumas, I'm lucky in that respect.
This has really stirred me up. I'm remembering some of the things she has done over the years- none of them dramatic, headline making, and feeling shocked at how inappropriate it was. It has just been part and parcel of life, and we got used to it all revolving around her, but actually some of it was completely unjustifiable.
Sorry* Phoenix*, I seem to be doing this journey alongside you!
Remember you can't control the way she is, only your response. Also, how she feels is NOT your responsibility.
She is trying to push her own feelings of worthlessness, sadness, jealously etc on to you, try as much as you can to pass them back to her. When we know and love people like this, we feel we simply 'can't' disagree with them or challenge them in case they get upset. Well, she is an adult. Being upset may be a consequence of how she is choosing to behave. You are a separate person to her, you are not responsible for her.
Thanks for the replies and the book recommendations.
Pklme* I have been given old clothes in the past too! Maybe there's a narcissists handbook that we don't know about
I've decided that I am going to emotionally distance myself. I will still call her but I'm not going to bother telling her much about my life anymore (I don't think she'll notice). Occasionally I ask for her help with things (not often, making DD a birthday cake for example as she's better at it than me) but I end up feeling so anxious as although she does it, it seems to cause her stress and there's a real sense of martyrdom about it. So things like that I won't ask for again.
Sounds just like my mother, although mine is what's called an engulfing narcissist and for a long time I was the golden child so didn't really see it. Unfortunately, putting boundaries in place totally pushed all her buttons and enraged her and we have now been NC for 2 years.
I have a very similar mother. Like you Birdandsparrow, she went ape shit full on rage when I finally put in boundaries. No contact at the moment. She is the vulnerable narcissist. Nearly 50 and only just working this out. Near ruined my life.
full on ape shit rage yeah, that about covers it. Unfortunately she drew other people into it, people I still ahve to see (but not family) and it really fucking sucks, she can be so convincing and I can't defen myself without looking like the nutter she's painted me as. I think we'll probably be nC now until she dies as she's fucking stubborn like that and I quite frankly never want anything more to do with her.
I was late thirties when it started to make sense and almost 40 when it all finally exploded and NC started. Life is so much better without her in it though.
Yes, mine is a vulnerable narcissist :https://luckyottershaven.com/2015/02/07/grandiose-and-vulnerable-narcissists-how-do-they-differ/
This also is good www.okfreud.com/20-hidden-traits-of-a-narcissistic-parent/
I highly recommend reading the books. And getting therapy. When I finally realised my mother was a narc I emotionally 'divorced' her and feel like a new person. I even started a meet up group and now meet women every fortnight to discuss and offload. It's fab.
Try to go low or non contact. She will never change, so you need to.
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