The Mostly-Bad Mother

During a recent session with a client, she was revisiting some memories about her mother, familiar to both of us since the beginning of her treatment.  Although her parents provided the basics — food, clothing, a roof over her head — they were both disastrous on an emotional level.  As the session unfolded, my client repeated many painful details from her childhood, and yet amidst all those memories, I caught little glimpses of the way she had at one time found her mother beautiful.  It made me think about the spots of goodness to be found in the mostly-bad mother, and how hard it is to hang onto them.  It’s an issue I continue to struggle with in relation to my own mostly-bad mother.

I could describe my own parents in very much the same terms as my client’s:  they fed us, clothed us, gave us a very nice home and bought us used cars once we learned to drive.  In financial and material terms, I had a comfortable, upper-middle class upbringing.  Emotionally, it was fairly awful.  I won’t burden you with the details; many people have more horrific stories to tell and entered their teens even more scarred than I was.  Suffice it to say that I suffered from severe bouts of depression and at 18 concluded, on my own, that I badly needed professional help.  Without telling my parents, I went to consult a psychiatrist who was a casual business acquaintance of my father’s.  He intervened on my behalf and spoke to my parents.  Later, after an endless and agonizing argument in which my mother and father insisted that either (a) I was making “it” all up; or (b) I was so mentally ill that nothing would help, they finally agreed to pay for my therapy.


Two months or so later, I entered the office of my psychotherapist and he said, “Joe, do you know why my bill hasn’t been paid?”  When I asked my mother about it later that afternoon, she snapped, “He has to wait like everyone else.”  I informed her that he wouldn’t continue to see me without payment.  A couple of weeks later, my therapist told me that my mother had sent him the nastiest, most abusive letter he had ever received.  At that point, I took a part-time job in order to pay for my treatment.  Many people in college have to work, of course; I wasn’t unusual in that way, although my motivation was a bit different.  I moved out of my parents’ house a few months later.

That was my mother:  nasty, sarcastic and often vengeful.  She had a powerful streak of envy and belittled anyone who aroused it.  Though not always obvious to outsiders, she clung obsessively to my father and felt jealous of the attention he paid to my sister.  She found motherhood a burden and preferred time alone with Dad.  She occasionally rage-spanked or slapped us; at the same time, she leaned on me emotionally, confiding information unsuitable for a child to hear, in a way that made me feel responsible and frightened.   When she found a marijuana “roach” I’d attempted to flush down the toilet, she brought out the belt; I told her I was too big for her to beat and she broke down in tears.  “If you end up like your brother and sister, my whole life will have been a failure.”  She was a functional alcoholic who suffered from her own major depressions.  She lived on prescription meds — first Milltown, then Valium — for years.

There you have her, the mostly-bad mother — angry, self-absorbed, envious and depressed.  Over the years, I’ve struggled without a lot of success to hold on to the good things about her.

My best memories of her cluster in two areas:  food and music.  Mom grew up on a farm in Texas where her own (angry and depressed) mother taught her about putting food on the table for the men; she wasn’t a fancy cook, but nearly everything she prepared was delicious.  I’m convinced my mother made the best spaghetti sauce in the world, despite the fact that most people I’ve known believe the exact same thing about their own mothers. Rotisserie chicken, roast beef, lasagna, pork chops with Spanish rice, fried chicken, steak and baked potatoes:  these were her staples, each of them consistently excellent.

She also had the ability of preparing an entire meal without any stress and getting meat, starch and vegetable all piping hot onto the table at the same time.  The entire family ate dinner together almost every night.  To this day, my brother, sister and I all cook and care deeply about food; we enjoy feeding people.  Looking at it objectively, I can see that we’ve taken in the best feature of the mostly-bad mother and made her a part of us.   There are even rare moments when I even feel that to be true.  On the rare occasions when I make her spaghetti sauce — it takes all day to make, with lamb shanks, sweet and hot Italian sausage, ground beef, wine and mushrooms — I know that I haven’t internalized only her bad qualities.

Another set of memories concerns music.  My mother didn’t play an instrument or sing but she listened to music much of the time.  Most of it was bland, easy-listening music; but in the living room which we almost never used, there was a hi-fi in a wooden cabinet that also housed her record collection.  Most of these records had been purchased when she joined a record club — one of her many enthusiasms that came and went, like macrame, decoupage and oil painting.  I discovered these albums and began to work my way through them at about the same time I was discovering old movies on television.  Thus I came to know and love musical theater through her recordings of South Pacific, The King and I, Oklahoma and My Fair Lady.  I have vivid recollections of those album covers, and a stylized Rex Harrison as God-on-a-cloud, manipulating poor Julie Andrews by strings as if she were a puppet.

I also learned to love classical music from exploring that cabinet, mostly Tschaikovsky and Strauss, with some Gershwin and Copland thrown in.  I used to lie on the living room floor alone and listen to these records over and over.  That music represented something good and beautiful to me; I know it has emotional connections to my mother since she loved that music, too.  During my early teens when we all became enthusiastic about Burt Bacharach, she bought us tickets for his concert at the Greek Theater.  She took me more than once to see The Sound of Music, and not just because I wanted to go.  Those works of music that we both loved gave us a common, clear, good space where we could connect.  Some of my most pleasant memories of Mom involve shared music.

But as soon as those “good” memories come up, other “bad” ones will soon follow, connected by their shared theme.  For example, her utter contempt for music I enjoyed but she didn’t, her sarcasm about my singing, her patent disinterest in my clarinet or piano or orchestra concerts at school.  The bad keeps seeping in.  At the age of 12, I begged her to buy me the soundtrack for Mary Poppins and she refused.  A week later, she told me she had a “special surpise” for me that concerned one of the five senses.  Could I guess?  When I failed to do so after a dozen tries, she felt deeply disappointed and treated me with scorn for not realizing it was — obviously! — the record I’d asked for.

I have several nice memories of going with her to pick out a new puppy, inextricably linked to other painful memories of coming home to find she’d gotten rid of it, unable to handle all that energy.  My two cats “ran away from home” one summer while I was at camp.  I think this may be the fate of those good parts of the mostly-bad mother.  It’s hard to keep them wholesome and good; they too easily become tainted by the pain of other memories.  Too quickly, they seem to slip away.  Even at their best, these memories of my mother don’t quite feel like love to me.

She died nearly 20 years ago and I don’t think about her often.  Holding onto the good bits no longer seems so important.  I have solid, deeply meaningful and long-lasting relationships with other peope who make me feel loved.

But I will always have food — the best, truly good part of the mostly-bad mother.

Finding Your Own Way:

Did you have a mostly-bad mother?  Do the bad memories crowd out the good ones, or can you hold onto the small areas of goodness?

What were the truly good parts of her?  Can you organize them into discrete areas the way I do or are they more diffuse?  When you think of your mother’s goodness, does it feel like love to you?

Some mothers are so depressed and overwhelmed by their pain, or so wrapped up in their spouses, they have little emotional room left over to love anyone else.  The narcissistic mother may be incapable of true love, the kind of love that values a child for more than his or her ability to mirror what is expected.

Even in the worst of mothers, I believe there’s almost always some small oasis of goodness around which memories cluster.  What about yours?

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Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.

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186 Responses to The Mostly-Bad Mother

  1. JB says:

    I am who I am because and despite my mostly-bad mother. She did have many good qualities like cooking well and keeping a clean and tidy house. Others good qualities weren’t what they seemed. She had no boundaries when I was at home. However, that wasn’t the case at school or anywhere but home. My interpretation was that she had confidence in me, and that gave me the incentive and courage to act responsibly and do what needed to be done at an early age. I realized later that to her, I ceased to exist every time I walked out the door. It was abandonment not confidence. But by the time I knew that, I didn’t need her confidence anymore, because I truly had my own.

    I came through with scars, but I’m doing pretty good. I am capable of love and empathy. I appreciate constructive criticism and take responsibility for my mistakes, even though I’d rather not. I have some things to work through still (why else would I read this site?), but I have hope and people around me who love me. What hurts the most is that my sister didn’t come through the experience of having a mostly-bad mother very well. Probably she is borderline and is definitely on and off clinically depressed. She doesn’t want help. She is never at fault, don’t you know? Others (especially me) are the cause of her problems.

    You wrote “there’s almost always some small oasis of goodness around which memories cluster”. I can’t think of any. The ones I had turned out to be wishful thinking.

    • sara says:

      I totally relate.

      • Nevaeh says:

        “You wrote “there’s almost always some small oasis of goodness around which memories cluster”. I can’t think of any. The ones I had turned out to be wishful thinking.”

        That is exactly how i feel.

        My mother AND my father are both very narcissistic.
        The craziest thing they do ist project their own bad traits upon me and believe that i am the nastiest person on earth trying to delude them all the time.
        Even my sister was gaslightning me nonstop in our last phone call.
        They simply discarded me.
        It is very sad- our “family” (though it never really was one) was ripped apart.
        My grandma just passed away on Friday and my mother will go on looking for a new scapegoat (next: my sister?) .

        Nevaeh.

        • S says:

          Here’s my take on the situation of a bad mother and good and bad family memories. Suppose you took an ocean cruise that lasted many months and met a really nice couple. You had a great time for a few weeks. Then suddenly things turn and you’re repeatedly raped by the man and cruelly treated by the woman–in a word, you’re held hostage and can’t get out of the situation for many months. Now I ask you, would any reasonable person say, “Although the ocean cruise was a nightmare–and I was repeatedly raped and cruelly treated by a couple–the couple gave me some good memories. I played some nice cards games with them and the man who raped me told some really great jokes!” I doubt it. This doesn’t mean that a person would have to hate good jokes or wouldn’t be able to make a play at cards learned from the rapist–but the experience was bad and wrong. The people were harmful and cruel. So when people ask me (and, Joe, I don’t take it that you’re asking anyone to do this), but when people ask me to try to remember the good in my parents–I just laugh. My experiences with them were horrible–and few good experiences with them doesn’t do anything to redeem what they did to me. Yes, I have some good childhood memories. I appreciate these memories, but even if they involve my parents–I don’t attribute these experiences to them–but to me, to childhood, to life!

        • jr says:

          I understand.

    • Reshma says:

      ” …I ceased to exist every time I walked out the door. ” I can relate to that. My parents have little appreciation of the fact that I am an adult with a life separate from them. Whatever life I live outside their line of vision or does not pass muster with them, does not exist. In a recent conversation with my father, where he dropped by my house to give me a souvenir that he had bought from a trip, he started telling me that he missed seeing me and my son. We see my parents every weekend and when I’m at their house, they hardly interact with me. I told him as much and I said, ” You just want me to be there… ” He said, ” Yes. ” He said that he could accept that things are different now (I set boundaries but maintain limited contact for the sake of their relationship with their grandchild) but he cannot understand. A narcissist is not capable of such understanding. To them, their children either do not exist (if they do not serve them in the way that they think they should) or are frozen in time. It’s funny how once you’re a scapegoat, you’re always a scapegoat. In the past I was the one they (both my parents are quite narcissistic, in different ways) projected their sense of shame/inadequacy and when I rejected the script they had written for my life, I am yet again, the scapegoat, this time, the source of their unhappiness. I used to have softer feelings for my father, as he did encourage me as I was growing up, but, it was always in things that reflected well on him or reflected his own idea of his ” special-ness “. He shows no interest otherwise. Narcissists have no impetus to examine why they have certain emotional reactions and prefer to blame how they feel on external sources.

      • Joseph Burgo says:

        “Narcissists have no impetus to examine why they have certain emotional reactions and prefer to blame how they feel on external sources.”

        You said it!

      • Ecra says:

        My father died 2 months ago, disinheriting me, his only child. I didn’t attend his funeral. I had regained my delight in living until a few days ago, when I read through my copy of the trust he had set up to make sure I didn’t get a penny. Now I feel frequent bouts of shame at this public declaration that I am worthless. Thank goodness I didn’t love him. I did love my mother, and keep inside me the precious heirloom of her basic shining decency; her courage to honestly and simply be who she was; and her stubborn joy in being alive and sense of fun–that I unfortunately didn’t inherit from her.

  2. Evan says:

    I’m not sure about mostly-good or mostly-bad for my mum.

    Her difficulty I think was with us kids existing separately to her. She loved infants but disliked us when we didn’t feel the same as her and didn’t do what she wanted because we wanted it. Doing it because we were happy to please her wasn’t enough. She rarely hit us and when she did it wasn’t terribly hard.

    It seems to me now that she was, and still is, quite narcissistic. But it also seems she genuinely did care for us – as well as wanting to be a good mother and so live up to her own idea of herself.

    I remember her teaching how to hit a ball with a cricket bat (this is an arcane sport of little interest that I think the US has had the good sense to avoid) and to ride a bike. These things I felt at the time, and still do, were done because she genuinely wanted to help me. They are quite positive memories. I can keep them quite separate from her needs to tell me what to do. But I find it easy to compartmentalise.

    But the mix of love and narcissism is very tangled.

  3. A Reader says:

    I suppose most mothers, no matter how awful they were , did their best.
    My mother sure gave me pain and shame enough. She also gave me life. She fed me and my brothers. None of us have the same father. The man she was married to astonishingly stayed with her till the end, seeing or refusing to see all the times she was “in the hay” with others. Looking back I have often wondered why she behaved that way, at times I have suspected that she did it for money, at least some of the times. My father, hard working and rarely if ever off work, did drink himself into a stupor every friday. I recall her waiting for him at the gate of his working place, asking for money before it all went to booze. My boyhood was chiefly fear, fear of them both, and fear of being lest they disapprove of me.
    I feared them, resented their behavior, and stayed away from them, except for a brief visit at Christmas. Yet I loved them deeply, that came visible to me when I decided to visit my father in hospital when I was about 60 and it possibly was the last chance to see him alive: when I saw him in the hospital bed, like a child, tears welled in my eyes. and I knew they were tears of love.
    My mother lay terminally ill for three months before she passed away, only once did I feel able to pay her a visit, only to be told by the nurse that my mother did not want my visit.
    I often blame myself for not being able to have bettered our relation, yet I know it to have been impossible.
    After tree decades of reliving old pain and misery it no longer hurts too bad. But the sadness does linger.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Your description of the deaths of your parents is very close to my own. I wonder, though, about the assumption that they all do their best. I really struggle with this issue, and I still haven’t made peace with it. I really doubt that my mom did her best. It’s an issue I wrote about in my post on can’t or won’t. It’s difficult to find the middle ground between being harsh and judgmental, on the one hand, and sentimental on the other.

      • anon says:

        I also wonder if my mom did her best but like the Russians say: “The best is the enemy of good enough”.

        I think that expecting a troubled woman to fix her issues before she gets pregnant is expecting too much if she can’t see the issues herself and luck hasn’t given her the bad experiences necessary for her to recognize them. If she could manage to do this then it would be the best outcome.

        The good enough outcome would be that you are born to a troubled woman and become emotionally “disabled”.

        The bad outcome would be that she decides she can’t handle a pregnancy and you aren’t born.

        Why do we expect to have a mother that guides us into adulthood without leaving us emotionally “disabled”? By doing that, don’t we completely ignore the factor of luck in our lives?

        We had bad luck and we didn’t get the best mothers but at least we are alive and have had at least one moment when we felt loved and happy. Whether or not we where truly loved doesn’t matter as long as in the moment we felt that way.
        Some of us have more moments where we feel loved and happy, others have less. It all comes down to luck. However, I believe one moment of being loved and happy is worth a lifetime of pain and loneliness. Of course, more moments would make it even more worth it but as the Russians say, the best is the enemy of good enough.

        That’s how I’m trying to let go of my resent towards my mother. I hope it helps you and others in some way.

        • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

          I think you misunderstand the Russian saying. It means that perfectionism is the enemy of what is actually good though imperfect. I agree with the sentiment entirely. But everything less than perfect isn’t necessarily “good enough.” There really is such as thing as “not good enough.”

          I also agree that it’s unrealistic to expect a woman to work out all her issues before getting pregnant. The real question is, does she continue to grapple with those issues and try to grow as a mother, or does she continue lying to herself about who she is, blaming others for her own limitations and expecting all the hard work to be done by someone else. That was my mother.

        • Adrian D says:

          The bad outcome would be that she decides she can’t handle a pregnancy and you aren’t born.

          It’s not a bad outcome in my view. You believe that one moment of love and happiness is worth a lifetime of misery. I don’t. And I don’t think I’m alone not believing that. Taking a chance to have children that could feel miserable all their life seems like cruelty to me when you think the odds are against them.

          The sad paradox is that among people that are aware enough of their issues to decide not to have kids, a lot would probably be less bad at parenting than some of those who believe they are going to be perfect parents with perfect children.

          « Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien » is a very common French saying, so I wanted to check whether it actually had a Russian origin, and was amused to find that Voltaire himself attributed it to some Italian wise man in La Bégueule where he explains the whole concept.

      • Whether ‘can’t or won’t’ she could only do what she was capable of – narcissists have narcissistic needs, unless someone can show them another way, surviving the best way they can and I might add they didn’t invent themselves they adapted for survival purposes. Somewhere in an oblique sense, narcissists can’t be happy with themselves either. If you have insight they don’t have, then you have more choices than they. You may experience more grief but in turn you may also develop more compassion and live an emotionally richer life.

      • I apologise for dipping in but I hope what I say is constructive despite not having time to read the whole context, but isn’t the saying “we all do our best…but could do better.” meant to say “we all do our best given the circumstances and could do better given different circumstances.”

  4. Marie says:

    My mom has huge brown eyes and an incredibly sharp sense of humour, and when she finds something really funny she laughs and laughs and laughs until she tears up from laughing so hard. Then she tries to stop herself but starts giggling again, even after you’ve changed the topic. It makes all her funny stories so much funnier, to watch her try to stop herself from laughing.

  5. Jas'n says:

    What I find to be the most interesting part of this post is the limited number of comments from people regarding their experiences with the mostly bad-mother/ I think that a lot of parents/Fathers included/ Did what they knew to do/ My parents were born in the late twenties/ Born to their situation/education and experiences/My best memories were also those of cooking and meals/ Still don’t know how my mother did what she did with what she had/In my neighborhood the majority of kids didn’t have two parents and were lucky to have one/ My father who passed away a year or so ago was present but not available emotionally/ Which probably added to my mothers stress as a parent/ Early in her marriage she had suffered the lose of her first son/Mystery surrounds the cause of death/ I suspect the best advice she received was to have more children/She had a second and I was the youngest/ From all of what was not said about my mother’s father I also suspect she was the victim of abuse/ I came to know my grandfather as an alcoholic and my grandmother to be very unstable/ All of which had to have a devastating effect on my mother/ I never heard the word “love” in our household/ Never received a word of encouragement regarding school or grades or what to be in life/ Never questioned my parents behavior until I became employed after college with a Mental Health organization/After a marriage that lasted for six years I spent a lot of time alone looking back and pieces the puzzle as best I could/I chose to be estranged from my family for 30 years/ Knowing in my heart that I had to resolve to just not have some answers to my questions/ When the news came to me of my fathers death the only question I could ask was how old he was at his death/ I felt relieved for him /For I know his suffering and he suffers no more/My mother is still along the path that she is on whatever it is/In choosing our own path we sometimes depart from those we know and love/ I consider myself fortunate to have separated from that situation before a lot of things were said that can’t be taken back/ The soul choices and decision are beyond our everyday logic and reasoning and acceptance along those lines is all the understanding we sometimes have/Regardless of who did what to or for us as children/ As adults we are responsible to choose differently if that’s what needs to be done/ More often than not we do what has been done to us unless we have the conviction to do diferent/

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks so much for adding to the conversation. And I agree about the dearth of comments — I expected this post to resonate with more people. Several readers have commented on the AP Facebook page, and I suspect many people just prefer to remain private with their stories. That’s okay, too.

      • JB says:

        I am not surprised at the lack of comments. Mothers are sacred, more than any other figure in western society. Many/most don’t want to believe that anyone’s mother, let alone their own, has less than pure intentions. Sometimes a mother’s actions will be seen as less than exemplary, but her good intentions are rarely questioned. Look at the amazingly intense interest the Casey Anthony trail. She has struck a nerve. Perhaps because many want to convince themselves that compared to Casey, their mother really was good, or at least good enough.

  6. Amanda says:

    Joe, I don’t really want to comment about my mom now. What I want to say is that I grew up with a narcissist dad and I’ve realised that it is probably a lifelong journey to unpeel the wounds to my psyche. But at least, I can be on the road to “knowing”. My dad has many great qualities but relationships aint one of them! And he is not able to overcome his fragile ego to change. So, he is stuck in his pothole of “never changing”. I don’t know if its just in my experience, but it is as if narcis pd is on the increase?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I don’t know if NPD is on the rise. It’s hard to tell because when a particular diagnostic label starts getting publicity or media attention, all of a sudden psychiatrists start noticing it more, and often over-using the diagnosis. Look at what has happened with bipolar disorder.

  7. Spark says:

    My mom got re-married and dropped me off at her new in-laws when I was 4 months old. Best favor she ever did for me. My “Granny” was the light of my life. Unfortunately, there was a lot of back and forth, until I went to live with my mom pretty much “full time” around the age of 8 or 9 (at which point she was on marriage number 3 NOT including my dad with three more kids). So I probably never properly attached to either her or Granny, who died when I was 10. I too was raised in a nice neighborhood, in a nice house with a pool, sent to a private school even, but was treated like a second class citizen by my mom. I was her live in maid/babysitter and I always felt more like the help than like I was part of the family. I still have a giant “chip” on my shoulder about that to this day, which I guess might be what normals call the narcissistic “entitlement” thing. I guess that in my distorted thinking and feelings of inferiority I feel that I just want to be treated like everybody else in my family, at work, etc, yes, that I’m entitled to be treated the same. So yes, I am super senstive, over-reactive like a borderline (like my mom was) because I’m not just reacting to what’s happening at that day, that week, that year, I’m reacting to years of abuse, neglect, and care-taking of the person who was supposed to be taking care of me. Two out of my 3 sibs tell me to “move-on”, which I would obviously LOVE to do if I could. Anyway, I can remember some nice things that my mom did, although they certainly aren’t the wonderful meals she prepared, that was usually me. Although we did eat dinner together every night. Every day when I got home from school, I made HER bed, because she usually wasn’t out of it yet when I left for school, washed water dishes she’d used during the day, vacuumed the house, and got dinner ready for when our “Dad” aka husband #3 returned home. Luckily for all of us, he has stuck around for 30+ years now, a great guy. Unfortunately, when I do look back on those moments like when I got into a car accident and it seemed as if she didn’t leave my side for a week, instead of just thinking wow she really did love me, which I do for a minute, my intellect kicks in and I sit there and try to figure it out…what was in it for her? what was her angle? what was she trying to get? what was the goal? what was she trying to acheive? The truth is that now that I have been through my own divorce, I know how difficult it is to keep a marriage together, to show someone how much you love them in the way that they need you to even when you do really, really love them. So I know that in her own way however sick and twisted it was that she did/does love me. And as for my 3rd sib. He is bi-polar with anti-social personality disorder. So I guess I’m lucky that I got off with depression, anxiety, and some mix of the occassional narcissistic/borderline resentment, anger, etc.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Your experience makes clear how hard it is to hold on to the good things in the mostly bad mother. With a childhood like yours, it’s difficult to trust that anything good truly is good. We remain doubtful and suspicious of the intention behind it, which makes it almost impossible to take in and “enjoy” the little goodness there might be.

    • Lorrie says:

      I am so sorry for your mostly sad childhood. I had difficult childhood too. I always wanted to be a Mother (I was born to be a mom, I believe). I found a man I liked (a lot) and knew he’s be a great father. We had 4 kids. Even though I took my job as a mother very seriously and always did the right thing, I realize now that each child grows up and gets pissed off at their parents for something. It is up to ourselves to heal our wounds.

      No mother is perfect. Although I tried to be. It is the hardest job in the world, if done with awareness, respect and compassion for each child.

      • Spark says:

        Thanks for your reply. Yes, I am trying to heal my own wounds, unfortunately life does not come with a “healing your own wounds” instruction book. And like a lot of other people I have thought that with the right spouse, the right job, the right degree, etc that they would heal themselves, but life has not turned out that way for me, and so I keep getting wounded. Its hard for me to tell at this point if I’m wounding myself, if I’ve had a string of bad luck, or if like certain abused women I just keep getting myself into bad situations again and again. As soon as I solve one problem, I seem to develop another. Get out of a bad marriage and my great career starts to tank. I am starting to think from reading this website that maybe there is some projection/transference issues going at play here. Anyway, I have been in and out of therapy and on a variety of meds since 1997, and I’m not really sure how much closer I am to healing my wounds now as I was then. Now I can see some patterns emerging, but a lot of my life is lost, I’m divorced, I can’t have kids anymore, I’m overeducated and unemployed. So I’m hoping with my next job, if it provides any kind of mental health coverage to be able to start therapy again, a long-term relationship for 5-10 years or however long it takes. I know that being a mom is the hardest job ever. Unfortunately, in my mom’s case it was a job for which she probably never should have applied, as she was wholly unqualified, and never committed the 40 hour week much less the 24 hours a day that most do.

        • Lilly says:

          Spark if it’s any consolation, my life is very similar to yours. I’m also still working out if it’s bad luck or me getting myself into bad situations. I would never have dreamed that my life would turn out the way it has. In some ways I am envious because you’ve at least had a (bad) marriage and I’m assuming some period of happiness within it. I, however, have never been married and am deeply, deeply yearning for a connection with a (healthy) male as I’ve never experienced anything long-term with the opposite sex. My therapist concluded that I attract emotionally unavailable men and suggested I read Harville Hendrix, who by the way is an excellent author however I’m still waiting for my opportunity to “work through” my issues. As much as my father needs to share the burden, I also place a healthy dose of the blame on my mother for being self-absorbed to not even consider how this model of a relationship between my parents would affect her children in the future. I’m leaving my own story too.

  8. diane says:

    My views of my mother have changed so much over my adulthood. I thought my mother did her best and was just unable to meet my needs emotionally. My best memories of her involve the fun she had socially. She was always the life of the party and enjoyed throwing large celebrations and small get togethers. I grew up in a house that was always welcoming to others.

    Since I’ve become a parent myself and spent the last three years in therapy I’ve realized how much I’ve minimized the abusive and traumatic events of my childhood. I was fed and clothed and treated well as long as I did what my mother wanted but I could never live up to the ideal. When I failed then I was yelled at, spanked, belittled, and punished. She was unable to deal with any negative emotions I felt. When you are with my mother the only acceptable emotion is happiness. She had no interest in my actual feelings or thoughts or experiences. This was particularly difficult because when I suffered actual abuse by a close family member and I told her she ignored me and kept on playing happy families. Even her good qualities such as being the life of the party have become just an extreme version of playing happy families and denying what is actually going on.

    I hope one day I can reach a point that I can remember some good in my mother without remembering all the ways she wasn’t good enough.

  9. Stephanie says:

    I am smiling at reading all these painful familiar stories others like myself went through with damaged mothers. When I think of my own mother (who died 30 years ago now) it is vague and she has been more of a shadow than a real person in my memories. This is not because of the passing of time rather more the poor positive emotional attachment she made in my life. My grandmother took a matriarchal role within our family when mam separated from my dad with 4 young children. But despite all the damage that occurred I can still remember my grandmother with some elements of positive love. Yet mam is really a shadow figure at the back of my mind with no definite emotional ties made. I think the resentment I felt towards her in my late teens and early adulthood was more around the lines of what she didn’t provide as a mother (which was huge) than what she did provide badly.

  10. Joanna Green says:

    I was very moved by the piece that you have written and the responses received. Your comment about the mother being sacred is so true! I work with bereaved patients and it often takes months to admit even a minor fault, for some it’s too difficult to ever own those feelings. Perhaps our mothers are so entwined in our sense of self, to criticise can feel like annihilation of ourselves. I am also struck by how hard it is to comment on my own experience with my mother…..

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      One therapist I know says that whichever parent the client complains about at the beginning of treatment, the other one is the real problem. I went into treatment thinking my dad was the issue and it took me quite a while to understand and accept what my therapist was telling me about my mother.

      • Barbara says:

        Interesting !

      • Mythomaniac says:

        I shudder at that thought! My dad is my hero and my mom the “monster”. My therapist has tried to suggest he might be less than perfect but i just cant go down that road. Still, there are fuzzy little memories that roam around in the back of my mind and hint at a vault not yet opened. But i just cant go there. And no matter what – it still cant be worse than what my mom did. Can it?

        • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

          Sometimes it’s easier and feels safer to split the parents up that way — good and bad, one the monster and the other a hero. It sounds as if you’re afraid that if you stop idealizing your dad, you’ll have nothing left, they’ll both be bad. I bet that with time, you’ll be able to tolerate a more complex view and recognize what’s good (but not ideal) about both of them.

        • Barbara Dothan Alabama says:

          I had always loved my dad so much, I guess I adored him, he was the only one in the family who was kind to me and always told me he loved me. My mother resented any relationship I had with my dad and tried to ruin it anyway she could, I always was made to feel unwelcome and unwanted my my mom. I hardly ever visited due to this. She naturally turned it all around and convinced my dad that I didn’t love him because I didn’t visit, At his sickness, hospital stay and sudden death , she and my NB would let me know as soon as I came to visit that I was not wanted and they had it all covered. She had my dad mad with me and made sure there would be no alone time with my dad so we could talk. I was totally shut out of funeral , but everyone was told that I didn’t love him of course, I was the bad daughter, BS I loved him so much and they knew it and just wanted to hurt me as much as they could. I didn’t go to dads funeral because of this and I was so torn up by the way they treated me, and knew they would at the funeral. I have gone NC with my whole family and it does feel so good to never ever see her or my brother again , but the sadness and the guilt that I let her push me and my dad apart all because she was so jealous of our relationship. I just wish I could have asked him why she always treated me so bad. I know he had to have known and watched it. I will never know why she always hated me, everyone else seems to like me.I have only bad memories of my mother, she could turn on my like a snake and you never knew why are what caused her to get mad at me, naturally she would hide any of this to other people and she is considered such a sweet southern Baptist, I know of her evil side, but the fact no one else gets to see this side of her really drives me crazy. We have not spoken since dad died and she hurt me so. I will not go to her for any reason, I will not answer any of her few cards thru the last 7 years, she is just trying to hurt me again in some was.She can die today and I will not shed a tear for her, I hope she rots in hell. AS for the good mother, yeah she treated my two brothers like kings and still does.

      • Reshma says:

        That’s an eye-opener… Growing up and until fairly recently, my mother always inappropriately confided in me, whenever she had issues with my father. This has definitely affected our family. I used to have so much anger towards my father. My brothers had anger as well as a fear of turning out like him. When I found out about maternal narcissism, it came as a relief and a bit of a shock. I used to have my mother on a pedestal. My mother knows that I don’t think that everything is my father’s fault and she has changed somewhat (like a chameleon) in her attitude towards him, in order to present the ” perfect family ” façade that she likes to portray. My father buys into this change (after years of mistreatment) and now, I’m the source of his/their unhappiness. Is it common for the enabler father/scapegoat to be a lesser narcissist or is their behaviour more a sign of co-dependency? I refuse to go along with the façade and my designated role. My father takes the boundaries I set as a personal rejection and has been manipulated by my mother into thinking that I am the problem.

        • Joseph Burgo says:

          This does sound familiar. Whatever dysfunctional dynamic rules their relationship, it sounds as if they are bound to one another and will turn against anyone who threatens their equilibrium.

  11. Barbara says:

    I think my experience of good things I retained from my mom are similar to what you describe, a very brief moment, sort of an unexpected break in the normality of our actual relationship, could be almost shocking in its nature, enough so it’s hard to tell what happened.

    I remember wanting a specific jacket and after enough cajoling my mother finally made it for me. I knew she didn’t want to do it, told me I didn’t need it, I guess she didn’t want me to have it, may have only done it so I’d stop rattling on about how I just had to have this thing.

    Once I had it on, the brief moment came, I saw she was glad about something. I’m not sure if it was just her own accomplishment, but I’m sure I wanted what I was sensing of her reaction to be about seeing her preteen daughter happy and looking lovely in her new garment, my mom loving me via this handmade item. When I look at the photograph now of me wearing the jacket, sadly there was nothing happy about that little girl, even with her new must have clothing. The moment I so wanted faded just that quickly, or may not have been there at all. I really don’t know.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      That’s a very poignant memory. It’s hard when the good bits are so few, and so fleeting.

  12. Kathrine says:

    My mother is good and bad. I think she would give her life for us, and she has always told us that she loves us. Her not so good side is her inability to see me as a person seperate from her (she’s still buying me clothes she likes, telling me to eat when she’s hungry and thinks that me abandoning my childhood faith is some kind of misunderstanding). And when we were younger – and now, with her grandchildren – she takes every sign of bad behaviour as a personal insult towards her. watching her calling my screaming and crying 2-year-old niece “childish”, and then walk away as she won’t have nothing to do with her, brings back memories of all the times she called me childish (she still does) and threatened to walk away from me. I turned out very well-functioning, very unhappy and somewhat ‘robotic’. Therapy helps me get in touch with “bad” feelings and hopefully, I’ll make progress on trusting people not to ridicule or leave me.

    My problem is, because there are so many good memories, I feel guilty adressing the bad memories. I was always the good daughter, and look at me now, complaining about her in a public blog.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      To address the bad memories means to separate from her and see her as a distinct, complex person. I’m sure the message you received growing up was that you were supposed to idealize her. In this case, “guilt” arises when you fail to comply with that demand.

  13. Steve says:

    Reading all of these comments has made me realise that a mostly bad mother is a common theme. I grew up as middle child and believed that my mum had a real problem with me. I believe the reason for her struggle to love me was partly because I mirrored her fears of life and because I was very sensitive. I think she could predict a future of struggle for a child such as me and so tried to criticise and punish it out of me. Result: I am still over sensitive and hyper critical of myself to the point where suicide seems like the most attractive option. I am father to four children and whilst I try to show them love I’m afraid it is inconsistent as I’m so obsessed with what a failure my life has been and I feel devoid of any real love inside of me.
    Knowing how ill I am petrifies me as I fear that one day I will take the easy way out and really screw my children up.
    I used to think I had a wonderful Dad and still do think he worked very hard and sacrificed a lot to provide for us. I find it hard to be critical of him because I compare my attempt at fatherhood to his and I would say he did much better than I did. However in terms of confidence I got very little from him because he had little to do with us emotionally.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I would really hope that you’d find a professional to talk to about those suicidal feelings. I know it’s not easy, financially or time-wise, but you’re right about your responsibilities to your kids. I have a good friend whose father committed suicide and he has carried that painful scar his entire life.

  14. JK says:

    Honestly, I see a lot of whining going on here.

    I grew up poor, my father an alcoholic who beat my mother, I was 3 when she took all of us children away from home in the middle of night and into hiding from my dad. She divorced him, went to work in a cotton mill back in the 60’s when it was hard for a man, much less a single mother of two daughters and a son. She swung shifts, dad never got us much on his weekends, we barely had food to eat. I lived in fear of what turmoil the next day would hold. But, you know what? I love my momma. She did the best she could. And I loved my daddy, even though he medicated himself with liquor because I know he had his own ‘snakes in his head’ to deal with. I just know we all grew up….with flaws and imperfections….just as my parents did. And not to dwell on it. There were good times, fun times, and scary ones too. But, heck, you don’t live in the past now do you? You live in the now. Here and now. My parents grew up hard, we grew up hard and my children have not. Spoiled, they are. And due to this will probably lack character that molded us into strong people. Dependable people. Hard working people. Just be appreciative of what you did have, good grief.

    • Christine says:

      I see your point, but I think you’re overlooking something: children can get confused when there is a problem in their living situation but it appears they are taken care of–with food/clothing/shelter not a problem. It may seem they have nothing to complain about, and sometimes their parents belittle, or even punish them, for needing emotional attention. If no one acknowledges there is a problem, and no one connects with them emotionally, these confused children can grow up to be depressed and angry adults who never learned how to “live in the now.” Not knowing how to live in the now is what depression is–and unfortunately, many seemingly well-cared for children grow up to be adults who come by such depression honestly.

      • cilipadi says:

        very true indeed…and it is a vicious cycle.I went through the experience with my hubby,unfortunately i had done the same thing to my children(unconsciously,i swear).Now i am on the quest to make amends…especially to my older 2 children…My hubby has yet to be convinced that he and his mother had great roles to play in this sin of ours.Wish me luck…

      • Karen says:

        I know you made this comment 2 years ago, but I have to say that it really helped me. Hearing people (like the previous commenter) say things like “you’re just a big whiner” strums a chord in me that was laid down by my parents. I really appreciated your response, because it made clear that emotional abuse and neglect can damage a child as much as physical abuse—sometimes more, because it is more insidious and takes longer to recognize.

    • Maureen says:

      Actually, no one lives in the “here and now”. That’s a myth. With live with our memories, and these experiences shape how we “live in the now”. We are conditioned by experience, whether we like it or not. And it is in no way incompatible to say, “I love my parents” – because most of us do – AND I was badly hurt or damaged by my experience of growing up with damaged, hurting people with limited resources to reflect on the problem, let alone solve it. So call it whining, or call it honesty. I think consciousness is a good thing and a necessary thing – and rather than being an excuse to whine creates the opportunity and responsiblity for effecting change. I think a lot of people are simply advocating to avoid this challenge, and advocate for the path of least resistance rather than grappling with the deeper issues. The question is, what does a human being need to thrive and grow? We need love, and we need to understand what that is and what that means, and be willing to learn it if we didn’t grow up with very good role models. Harder than claiming that all is the best in the best of all possible worlds.

      • JK says:

        You most certainly can live in the “here and now” by simply making the choice to. Granted, how well you adapt to that change in attitude may depend on your upbringing, but it can be done if you put forth an honest effort. Soon, it will come naturally. If you continue to dwell on your upbringing, what your parents did not provide for you, then you are not living in the present. You are just looking for reasons, and whom to blame, for your current state of mind and/or situation. I’m not saying that it doesn’t impact your personality, it does, but it’s up to YOU to change. I don’t think any person sets out to be narcissistic (or have any other disorder), nor do I think they are always aware that they have those traits. These parents that lack good parenting skills (which is subjective in most cases) I truly believe wanted to be good parents and to have a good life. All parents are, are just the children from the generation before them (and so on) that hope they don’t screw up like their parents did…and hope their children don’t hate them when they do. Cut them some slack. More than that…help them. Help them by forgiving them, then forgive yourself, because I can guarantee your children have a negative thing or two to say about your parenting skills.

        • Maureen says:

          I always find it curious when an honest acknowledgement of failure and dysfunction in parenting, or in the case of this article, “mostly bad mothering” is twisted into some notion of “blame” – as if by acknowledging the truth about what really is the real state of affairs is somehow an accusation that forfeits personal responsibility for one’s own life. Your comment reeks of denial and the standard victim blaming that is passed on from one generation to the next. If it actually worked in any functional sense, your comments would have value – but they don’t. Your sanctimonious pleas to “help” the perpetrator betrays your own complicity in the logic of victim-blaming. It’s spiritually and psychologically shallow, and morally corrupt. But you are part of the legions who stick their head in the sand and call it “living in the moment”. Good luck with that.

          • Olivia says:

            Me too I have a narcist father and probably a borderline mother, and Maureen I have to defend JK here: help your parents by forgiving. This is not about victim-blaming but about making good what was broken. I find being a victim in our culture is very seducing because being a victim makes you the good guy, puts you on the morally winning side. After years of being bad I was finally allowed by my therapist to be good, and to be really good because a child has no bad intentions. I quite desperately tried to be good to my parents to make them presents to fulfill any expectation they put on me, still they thought badly of me. I was introduced in this role of ‘victim’. Although this role is very comforting in the end you have to ask yourself who you want to be, how you want to define yourself: as the victim, as the ‘mentally challenged’ due to upbringing? In my mind this is not freedom, and in the end this is what everybody wants: to be happy, and a victim is not happy. I do not say that it is wrong to complain about what happened, I did it and I still do it. It is necessary to finally be able to admit: they hurt me and I had no part in it. But it does not make you happy, because you keep this grudge inside of you. The moment you are able to love yourself scarred and imperfect as you are you will be able to feel compassion for your parents. In the end they wanted the same as you: happiness but searched it where they didn’t find it: outside of them. If you manage to be compassionate to them and to see how great you are, you will feel better and be able to let go of this grudge. And in the end somewhere in your heart you do love them, and it feels good to remind yourself of this ability of yours and thus let this part grow.

          • Bronte says:

            To hear the truth stated so intelligently – so eloquently, with such depth and understanding brightens my heart and let’s me feel connected to someone worthwhile, which happens so infrequently. My father died 3 days ago. As our host pointed out earlier I was reminded that he was the problem. I am glad he is dead and will be gladder still when the mother is no longer taking up oxygen that decent people could breathe. They didn’t do “the best they could”. Our host and most commenters have said so many helpful things to me on a night I am riddled with unspeakable sadness at never having parents who loved me but rather occupied themselves with hurting me in ways and in frequency I never talk about anymore as too many simply tell me I am lying. The best therapist I ever saw (and only once, at 17) told me to stay as far away from these people as possible. I did mostly, & it was always best. Although I subscribe to and respect the “remedies”, research & options offered by intelligent psychotherapy , it seems that these days I also think in terms of what is the contract I have made to come to this place & perhaps learn something to serve me in the next dimension. I claim to know positively nothing & want nothing to do with organized religion. We want so to be loved – this is about the only thing I know. I can comfort myself fairly usefully by giving to someone who is perhaps worse off than myself. To maybe give to someone else that which I wish for myself. Or 20 mgs of Valium. Life is very hard – no getting around it.

            • Joseph Burgo says:

              There is definitely a kind of healing that comes from giving to someone else what you never received, but I hope there is more for you than Valium. Life is truly difficult, full of pain, and being loved is one of the only things that makes it bearable.

  15. A Reader says:

    JK, yes we live in the now. Pray that you don`t encounter a burden to heavy to bear.

  16. dominique says:

    I have a terrible relationship with my mother and looking into it has brought me to this thread. I have spent the last 8 years or so (im 23) trying to work out whether our awful relationship is my fault or hers. I grew up also in an upper-middle class family where my parents worked very hard to provide food, nice clothes, good education and a roof over our head. Both of my parents came from lower class backgrounds and worked very hard for their money. I soon realised that my mothers desire was for me to be a well spoken, well mannered, well behaved girl who grows up to marry a doctor and holding a louis vitton bag meant I was a success. I share very different views about this and it’s where we’ve encountered a problem. My mother is very controlling, and I am very independant – which I believe is due to the fact that my mother is quite a cold person. Although she worked hard to make sure I had nice dresses on, she spent too much time thinking matieralistically rather than being there for me emotionally. I have never once spoken to my mother about ‘feelings’, I confided in her once when I was 18 about something I had never told anyone before, the next day the whole of my family knew about it. I told her when I was 18 I had a boyfriend (my first), she slapped me round the face and called me a slut in front of my brothers in public. I do not trust her one bit, and I dont look at her and feel fondness, I see a woman who makes me so miserable, and took away confidence before I had a chance to have it.
    My father died suddenly when I was 15, and thats when things really got worse and I grew to dislike my mother for the person she was. She is constantly negative about life, saying how hard she has had it and how I dont have a clue what the ‘real worlds’ like. I on the other hand, have the attitude where despite losing my father at 15 I’m grateful to have had an amazing dad for 15 years, and just want to get on with my life being happy. Both me and my mother have tried to better our relationship over the last 5 years but nothing seems to be working. She says I’m a spolit bitch, who has to have things my way e.t.c. I tried to tell her multiple times that to me, being able to talk to her is much more valuable to me than any item of clothing will ever be, that is more important. We just don’t see eye to eye and have very different opinions. If I tell her about my grades at university, she says Im lucky to even had the opportunity and never offers any encouragment, she seems determined almost to see me fail as if she can’t stand the idea I’m better than her in anyway. I moved out of home at 16, but have occasionally gone back for a couple months if I’ve been between places. In the last year I have started talking back to her, which I would have never dared before, but I finally became confident as a person and looking back on the last few years and how scared a person I was because of her made me angry. Now every little dig or anything she says I will snap back. Its gotten to the point now where I’ve gone back to University and am considering never speaking to her again. I feel guilty, for thinking this way, I feel like I should be more patient with her because she lost her husband, but I cant forgive her for the way she has been towards me. Its made me realise that when I have children, my priority is that I will always be there for my kids and love them unconditionally, they will be able to talk to me about anything, I will not judge them, belittle them, or be over controlling. That to me is more important than making sure my girl grows up to be who upper class society wants her to be.

  17. Beth says:

    It’s funny how, as an adult, you realize so many things that were SO wrong when you were growing up that you just figured were normal as a kid. My Mom divorced my Dad when I was 4. She’d gained lots of weight after having two kids and was incredibly emotionally unstable and burdened me with all of her problems. I was practically her spouse and listened to all her problems and always felt like her emotional state was my responsibility. She was an emotional roller coaster, and I never knew what things would be like each day when I got home from school. Would she be on some new kick where she was acting like June Cleaver and being really fake? Or would she still be in bed? Or would she have watched an episode of Roseanne and decided it was better to be like her? She watched a lot of TV and was always trying to “be” someone new…if some character in a movie changed her life by selling certain cosmetics, my Mom ran out and began selling the same thing, even dressing like that character, as if this character was a real person. I remember a show where a woman ran a daycare in her home, and a week later my Mom quit her job and opened a daycare in the house. (Of course, it didn’t last.) To this day, she refers to characters on shows like they’re real people; and I’m hyper-sensitive to it now as an adult. I was talking to someone once about a parenting issue I was having, and they told me what they’d seen the Huxtables do once on an episode of Cosby, and I lost all respect for that person simply because of that one remark…it was a flashback to my Mom.

    I think the worst legacy my Mom has created is terrible habits, and I’m sad to say that I really do hate her today because of the way I’ve had to basically teach myself everything and painstakingly try to change deeply engrained bad habits that she gave me. I feel like I’m an adult who still has to learn all these things that other “normal” kids learned early in life. She never followed through on ANYTHING. Laundry, housecleaning, careers, friendships, self-care…you name it. I’ve been married for 7 years now (which I’m really proud of, by the way), and I only now (at 32) have finally changed the habit of keeping up with laundry. Whenever I want to just give up, I recall as a child having to dig through piles and piles of dirty laundry every day just to find socks that matched. They were dirty and they smelled, but I didn’t know any different. I never want my kids to think that’s normal. Many days, she didn’t brush her teeth or make sure we did. She never took us to a dentist, and I have a mouth full of cavities today to show for it. She never followed a schedule, was always late, never finished anything, and never really gave a damn thought to how that might shape our future and make life difficult for us.

    One poster here said something that really rings most true with me. When I think back on things that other people might perceive as nice things that my Mother said or did for me, I almost feel sick because it was all so fake. I cannot conjure up one good memory of my Mom that isn’t tainted because I know what the true intention was. My Grandma will mention things like “Don’t you remember the time your Mom did A or B?” and I want to laugh and tell her what really happened. She was a habitual liar, too, so I don’t think anyone would ever believe what living in our house day to day was REALLY like. I want to tell her that my Mom once brought a boyfriend who was in rehab home at night who robbed us when she went to the bathroom. I want to tell her that my Mom told everyone my Dad sexually abused us so that she had an excuse for her divorce and then made me feel awful for calling her a liar when I said it wasn’t true. I want to tell all her friends today who think she’s just so great what she is REALLY like behind closed doors, what a manipulative horrible person she is and how she’s probably lied about them to someone else. It’s amazing…I never talk about this stuff, but it’s incredible the hatred I feel when I even just picture her sitting on the couch late at night watching TV and eating bag after bag of candy and junk and only making our lives worse. It really bothers me when people tell me how great my Mom is…I want to just unload on them!

    In the end, I think I’ve never faced all of these lasting demons more than when I had my own children. I have three now and am expecting my fourth. While I do feel like I do a better job than she did, there are so many things I know I’m doing wrong because I don’t know how to change the habits she so selfishly gave me. Being a Mom is overwhelming enough even when you have a gameplan, and I have none. I find myself yelling at my kids or getting angry with them, and I know that it’s more because I’m frustrated with myself and simply don’t know what else to do. I feel like everyone else had a teacher, and I had no one and have to find my own way completely.

    My Mom still does not acknowledge any of these things. She actually denies that vivid memories I have are even true…I mean, come on! Somehow it seems like her at least owning up to them would at least be a start at healing for me, but she denies it all. And so the hate and the anger toward her just fester. And the long, painful journey for me trying to identify the broken parts of me that need fixing continues. And I just pray, pray, pray that I can give my kids a better start and create positive memories for them. I wish to God I knew how…but I’m working on it.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I give you a lot of credit for doing all that hard work. It’s extremely difficult to try being a good parent when you had such a poor example. You’ll probably never feel good about your mom (why should you?) but maybe the anger and resentment will wane with time. I find I tend to me more sad as I get older, mournful about the childhood I never had … and even that isn’t so strong any more. But then, I’m 24 years older than you.

      • Barbara Dothan Alabama says:

        Does this sadness ever go away? I see other people going about there lives, happy and with great families that do things together, happy holidays etc. All I have is resentment for my mother for the way she shut me out of everything to do with my family, I was always made to feel unwanted and unwelcome. I continued to go hoping it would be better each time mostly just wanting to be around my dad whom I loved dearly. I have such a hard time trusting anyone, I can’t make friends and maintain friendships with anyone. I always pull away and stay to myself. I try to buy friendships initially and then when I see they are just using me I just walk away. I had a daughter that I have always tried to be close to and I hope I never ever treat her in anyway like my mom treated me.Now that I have a grandson I remember things that happened to me at his age and I am so furious because he is too young to defend himself and so was I. I never want to see my mom again and Will NOT be at her funeral.

    • Jo says:

      I can relate to your piece, especially where you say you feel she didn’t teach you the basics in life and how you felt everyone else has a ‘heads up’ on you. I had/have similar feelings. You come across as a very insightful person and quite strong I would say. I wish you all the best in your endeavours to become the best you can be without the maternal support that a lot of people take for granted. I too am that soldier!

  18. Mythomaniac says:

    I have to agree with Beth on a lot of points, not the least of which is being unable to appreciate the great things others saw in my mom because I knew everything that happened behind the scenes. Every seemingly loving hug or public embrace with the unseen/unheard threats whispered in the ear. Every perfect family portrait mailed out in the Christmas cards with the unseen beatings that occured while making us look perfect for the camera. What looked like a mom walking through a store holding her childs hand was really a moms nails digging into the childs hand so deep that they left scars – part of her “i dare you to cry” game. And so many horrible things I cant mention.

    But I have to agree with JK, here, too. she is still my mama. I understand why she is the way she is and, while I still struggle a lot between hating her and trying to forgive and love her, i kind of feel like to walk away from her (knowing that the thing she fears more than anything is abondonment) would be as bad as or worse than walking out on a person with a terminal illness. Society would frown on abondoning a cancer patient but finds it understandable, and sometimes adviseable, to cut ones self off from a mentally ill person. i kind of dont understand that.

    But as to the original question posed here: my mom loved to learn and travel. and she took us along for the ride. Not easy for a poor and large family, but she planned wonderful vacations that took us all over the united states and Canada – the grand canyon, yellowstone, Washington dc, every museum and hiztoric site you can think of. And while it is true that all those vacations had their sour spots and i cant look at any picture from them and not remember that, yet it is also true that it exposed our minds to possibilities. So i am thankful for that.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      You can feel compassion for your mother, and a sense of responsibility for her, without feeling that you “love” her in the usual way. That makes sense to me, especially when there are some good bits you can hold onto.

  19. Anna says:

    I am so desperate to be a mostly-good mother to my own toddler. My mostly-bad mother is confusing because she humiliated me, demeaned me, neglected me due to depression, belittled my fears and pain, etc – but she also taught me to read, taught me the common names of all the plants in the hedgerow, and the names of the birds. She was from a gypsy background and I think it’s her knowledge of and love of the countryside I treasure most. The reading is more equivocal because, once she had taught me the basics of reading, my father took over and my mother never read anything (no story books to us children, no books to herself) except occasional gardening or other magazines.

    I miss my mother a lot having estranged myself from her over ten years ago due to her defense of my paedophile dad and blaming me. I wouldn’t want her ever to contact me again. From that, many people infer that I miss having ‘a mother’ – the one I never had. I do miss ‘my’ mother though, I miss the good bits as above and other things that I associate with her, quiet times looking through her button tin (random buttons).

    I don’t know that I feel love when I think of my mother, I don’t know that she was able to love me really. She herself said she was too young to be a mother (she wasn’t that young) and relieved when I turned 18 as she was no longer ‘her responsibility’. I don’t think she ever really bonded with me, from the time I spent post-birth and untouched (I think traumatized) in an incubator, through her years of depression. It’s sad, there wasn’t really a connection between us though she tried to force this with ‘telepathy games’ etc.; unreal connections.

    That scares me as I wonder if I have a capacity to love my own child so that he feels my love. It’s the main motivation for my healing I suppose. I have to be able to stay connected to my son.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      The fact that you care so much and are trying so hard makes all the difference. That’s all we can ever do — try hard without holding ourselves to perfectionistic standards. Given your background, there will of course be times when you’re not going to be able to give your child everything you wish you could do, and there will probably be some shame about it. But that doesn’t make you the same as your own mother. It doesn’t mean you’re not “mostly good.”

    • Barbara Dothan Alabama says:

      You will make a great parent, everything you have been thru will push you to become better and more loving every day. Bless you and just make sure this NM never gets to hurt your own child.

  20. Lilly says:

    I’ve only just realized after finishing 2 years of therapy at how ill-equipped my mother was at being a mother. When I think of my mother’s goodness, and I’m really struggling here, it definitely does not feel like love to me. Yes, she fed me and was a great cook, kept the house tidy and clothes clean but that’s it. Absolutely zero emotional sustenance. Unfortunately my father was selfish as well (probably even more so) so I did not have good role models.

    I read a description in a book once that fit my situation to a T:
    “You had a parent who never grew up, remained a child. You felt alone at age six but were told to “act your age” meaning act as if you were thirty. You never really had a “normal” childhood, mainly because you had to protect your parents from your needs for love and attention (this really struck a chord). One or both of them were even more needy that you were. You had to take care of them, often literally, because of illness, or some other infirmity. Maybe you even had to substitute for a parent. Years before you could really cope with being an adult, you had to be an adult.”

    My mother stayed and is still in an abusive marriage. Both emotionally and physically (in the past). My memories of my mother are ones of her constant unhappiness and depression. I can never remember her laughing. As you stated in your article, she was so depressed and overwhelmed by her pain, or so wrapped up in her spouse, they have little emotional room left over to love anyone else. And you further wrote: The narcissistic mother may be incapable of true love, the kind of love that values a child for more than his or her ability to mirror what is expected.

    Your article alone made me realize that I have a narcissistic mother. She would only approve of me if I fit and acted to her standards., ie I was not “house proud” (any wonder when to me that equalled suppression and submission) therefore I was “bad”. I was also rage-spanked by her at the age of 18 and a couple of years later left home. She also leaned heavily on my sister and I, confiding inappropriate things about my father and even on occasion, their sex life.
    I was constantly compared to my sister eg. why can’t you be more like her. In effect, total invalidation on all levels; my feelings, me/my character as a person. I’m also ambivalent about my sister because she would then stand in the kitchen with my mother and openly criticize me (and anyone else for that matter that they didn’t “approve” of) and dissect what had just happened ie how I made her angry. And I was not a problem child- no drugs, was not rebellious. I figured because my mother was so depressed and frustrated with life, that I was her outlet for her bad marriage so anything may have triggered her: didn’t put something away straight away, anything. Forget about encouragement, there was constant criticism. And naturally a storehouse of emotions would surface but I would have to either contain them (was scolded for expressing them) or I would be ignored literally while she dealt with whatever was going on in her head. So to this day, I’m still struggling seeking validation.

    I have battled with depression over the years and count myself lucky that I have the fortitude, and only because of the work I have done on myself through reading therapeutic books and a stint at therapy, to have made it through life without committing suicide or deeper mental health problems. I only wish I had found therapy earlier in life as I am now just over 40.

    I feel nothing but bitterness for my mother now. And resentment that I have to be the one work through the issues that she created and she gets off scot-free. Of course, as one poster stated, nothing is ever her fault, she’s always the victim and “other people” ie my father, have changed her. Where’s the responsibility in all this? And to add to my frustration, my brother and sister blindly defend her stating that “she’s had a hard life”, and constantly justifying her bad behavior. I cannot ever feel good about my mother because her bad behavior continues to this day. I am an adult and am very independent and self-sufficient in every way. I recall last Easter that, as families do when they get together, I was the topic of discussion, what was I doing about my situation – the possibility of losing my house. As it turned out, I’ve had a difficult year (losing a house due to loss of job, loss of a relationship, discovery that I may not be able to have children) . Absolutely zero encouragement or support, just criticism about what I wasn’t “doing right”. I ended up in tears at the comment my mother made which was “what have you done with your life”, said with disdain. I could not believe how cruel and totally indifferent she was to my pain. She had in essence, in one fell swoop, stated my life was a total waste of time. And if it was possible to kick me when I was down even more, when I told her through the tears that her comment hurt me, she just literaly turned and walked away and stated she was going to bed. I understand the reason why she acted in this manner – she is strung out and weary at having to emotionally support my father who has been going through his own difficulty with the possibility of his business being shut down, however that felt like a stab in the heart. This incident was a turning point for me.

    Thank you for allowing me to feel this way and making me feel that it’s normal to not feel good about your mom: “You’ll probably never feel good about your mom (why should you?) but maybe the anger and resentment will wane with time.”

    She is my mother and I will not treat her with contempt because I am the better more mature person however in future, I do not want any deep or close relationship with her and I’m comfortable with my decision.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      You have to protect yourself from this kind of hurtful behavior. I think you’re right to want some distance — that’s where I finally landed. I did my “duty” as a son and showed up for important family occasions, but otherwise, it felt better for me to lead a more separate life. My mother was sarcastic but yours sounds downright cruel. Not that it makes any difference, but I’ll bet she’s struggling with a huge amount of shame for the ways she failed you as a mother. That’s unconscious, of course. What you get are the blaming defenses against it.

  21. Janie says:

    I am the oldest of 5. All of us were emotionally abused, alcoholic father who could care less, both gambling addicts and I took care of my siblings. I don’t honestly know how I made it to where I am today. I was in hell my entire childhood, often wishing I wouldn’t wake up in the mornings. She completely ruined my wedding, but I forgave her, only because she is my mother. But she is far from a mother. To this day she pains my life, when she decides to come around and play grandma to my daughter for an hour a month. I can handle the abuse, I have for 32 years. Its my child that I don’t want to see hurt. Grandma has already fouled up multiple times. It’s hard but I’m about to remove her from my life, and hopefully my daughter will one day understand. I don’t know how, but I’m 100x the mom to my little girl than my mom ever was. I guess what pain we endure and survive makes us that much stronger.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      It’s a mystery, isn’t it? — how someone who comes from such a barren childhood can find the small bits of goodness and build upon them, becoming “100x the mom” that her own mother was. I also think we try to heal ourselves through our children, by giving them the experience we needed.

  22. Evening says:

    I’m so glad I stumbled across this post. I have been struggling with how to think of my mother, ever since that I realized that my mother was narcissistic and often, if not always, has an ulterior motive behind her professed love for me. If she loved me she would have respected me, or acknowledge me even when parts of me are not quite her taste. She would not have tried to castigate everything about me that was different from her.

    That was what makes it so frustrating. I can no longer look back on the memories without wondering during what moments did she love me, or was she just using her professed love to get what she wanted. I was so horrified that maybe she never really loved me, but only loved the projections of her on me, and the fact that I was a covenient child she could manipulate any way she wanted.

    After seeing this post I feel I can be more adjusted to the fact that my mother was imperfect, and probably never capable of genuine love, but she cared, and I also cared about her too, even though I don’t like her much. Thank you for posting this.

    After accepting

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Having been through it myself, I understand how hard it can be to reach that place of acceptance. At least you are able to feel that she did care, in however limited a way.

  23. Dusty says:

    I don’t know if my mother is mostly-bad or if I’m the one who is mostly bad. I don’t think I’ll ever know. (I am a very sensitive people-pleasing person who gets anxious just telling people things because I’m afraid to see traces of negative emotion in their faces. I vehemently hated grade school because my teachers terrified me when they got angry with students and I sobbed over my homework because I was afraid they would be angry with me if I didn’t do it right.)

    My mother had a wonderful knack for guilt-tripping me by first arguing with things I said, then saying my response was “talking back” and that it was disrespectful. I have since found that you cannot argue ANY point with my mother and win. She is always right, no matter who is arguing with her or how petty the argument. She doesn’t seem to be able to make friends, probably for this reason. Every time I have an argument with her, no matter if I feel I had a legitimate point or not, I feel she goes away triumphant and I go away feeling like absolute garbage.

    In junior high, I was under a great deal of emotional stress, was extremely depressed, and thought of suicide a lot. My days were a rollercoaster of emotion: I would be hyper and giddy and then sink into despair. I would go to social gatherings with the best intentions of having fun, only to spend the night in the corner instead. I had terrible self-esteem. I couldn’t bring myself to look people in the eyes. I couldn’t cry. I asked my mother for help; I asked for pills. She only told me “some people are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” During a visit, my doctor told my mother that I needed to see a therapist. My mother said “Yes, but…” and I never went. I really think I should have.

    Nowadays I have no relationship with my mother. There was a terrible blow-out after I discovered my parents had been recording everything I typed without my knowledge. I am a very private person and this just devastated me. While I was sobbing, trying to explain how violated I felt, she said to me with absolutely no remorse, “I’m surprised at you. This is a typical teenage reaction.” She then used the confrontation to tell me all the things she didn’t like about me. (To her credit, she apologized for that. One of very few apologies for her outbursts.) After that, I stopped talking to her nearly entirely. I can look most people in the eyes now, but not my parents. My father is easy to forgive, because he seemed very clueless as to how badly he hurt me and I think he felt sorry about it, but not so with my mother. She became even more defensive and confrontational with me after that. I am glad to avoid her as much as possible. It disgusts me to let her see any positive emotion from me anymore. Looking back on her reactions to my issues, I feel like she never thought any of my thoughts or feelings were legitimate. We never had heart-to-heart talks. She was not someone I felt like I could confide in or be honest with, without being judged or getting lectured. She said, “Parents aren’t supposed to be friends with their children.” I guess that’s why she thought it was a good idea to spy on me instead of just talking to me.

    I feel guilty for everything that has happened between my mother and me. I don’t know if this is because she is good at manipulating people or if it’s because I am just a guilty person. I don’t even know if I should feel guilty or not. I try to tell other people about my issues but they seem to not understand the magnitude of it. They suggest that I try to talk it out and resolve the conflict, but how can you resolve conflict with someone who doesn’t believe you have a valid point? My response has primarily been to become more self-sustaining and take some of the burden off of my family because I feel ashamed to be part of it.

    I can say without a doubt that my mother had a lot of good qualities and I have lots of good memories from childhood of her. It is just painful for me to think of those days in comparison to now. To think of how honest and trusting of her I was as a child makes me feel very sick. I still think I need a therapist…

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Yes, it sounds like seeing a therapist would be a good idea. As for your mother, you’re right — there is no “conflict” to resolve. There’s nothing to be worked out because she’s only interested in “winning” and not in finding out the truth or understanding how you feel.

  24. Natalie says:

    My mother sounded painfully like your mother, right down to the clarinet and piano stuff. After a lot of therapy, I am working now on fitting her into my life, 15 years after her death. She doesn’t occupy a big space anymore; there aren’t too many good memories. But she did teach me to love animals and nature and books, and how to make daisy-chains. When she did, I felt like a burden had been lifted from me. At the time I didn’t understand that, and felt guilty. But now I realize that a burden was indeed lifted. If she were alive today, I don’t know that I’d want her in my life.

    I don’t think she was capable of loving me, narcissist that she was. But she did give me a few gifts, for which I am grateful.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Yes, you have to take what little good there is and try to value it. I just wish there were more of the good things to appreciate!

  25. Aaron Penmore says:

    Great post Dr. Burgo! I like that you admit the truth, as unfortunate as the truth may be. I’m weary of people who deify bad mothers in order to make themselves feel better, especially around Mother’s Day. When I was young, I made excuses for my mother’s bad behavior; now I find it empowering that I can admit the sad truth: I HAD A BAD MOTHER! (And she wasn’t even a good cook or tidy housekeeper.)

    At home, she was absent–always on the phone and disengaged. She was an alcoholic and addicted to prescription meds. She stayed in an abusive relationship just long enough to get into another one. She left us kids when I was 14 not the least bit concerned that we were living with a known pedophile. I didn’t know where she was for several years until she reappeared when I was a senior in high school. She stayed around long enough to be mean, insulting, and belittling, then disappeared again one afternoon. She reappeared a month later in a hospital with a self-inflicted gun shot wound, again, recovered again, mental hospital again, drug rehab again, and still took no responsibility for her actions. As time goes on, I find that any good memories I had have been overshadowed by the bad ones. Sometimes food, shelter, clothes, and a go-cart aren’t enough. The moral of the story is: not everyone should be a mother.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I whole-heartedly agree with your last point! And your mother makes mine look like a saint. It must be even harder when there’s virtually nothing good to hold onto.

  26. TRB says:

    First of all, I’m very sorry to read all the posts from people who have been very damaged by the actions of their mothers, and I hope that you can all eventually forgive and move on from the hurt. I actually stumbled across this post because I have a friend (beautiful, intelligent) who has surprisingly low self-esteem around how attractive she is – which impacts her relationships with men – and I am trying to help her to unravel why this might be. We’ve established that her mother – a very bright, glamorous woman – has always been very competitive with her own daughters, always wanting to be the thinnest, the most attractive, and so on. When my friend was growing up, she did not once hear from her own mother that she looked nice: such a small but significant thing. Even now, my friend received a phone call just the other day where her mother said to her “Well, I’m in much better shape than your sister”. When I asked my friend how she responded to this, she replied that she said nothing and let the conversation continue, which condones her mother’s action. I suggested that next time her mother says something similar, my friend tells her that not only is it inappropriate, but that it is mean and perhaps even unmotherly. My friend said that she would find this incredibly difficult to do – it’s her mother after all. Which leads me to the earlier post about mothers being seen as sacred and reverent, by virtue of simply being a mother. This is a myth. Mothers are, descriptively, just woman with children in their care (I use the phrase ‘in their care’ loosely!). All mothers are simply humans, with the capacity for good or bad, and as we can see from these posts, there are as many mothers who can damage their children as there are mothers who are loving and nurturing. Therefore, as adults, we must not infantilise ourselves, and put ourselves in thrall to this lie about motherhood. We must see our mothers, not as mothers, but simply as people. And if they have failed us, we must confront them about that failure. Either they accept the criticism and the relationship can be repaired, or they deny it, and we can make the decision to sever the relationship. There should be no guilt about deciding not to be in touch with a mother anymore, just because society puts such emphasis on the mother-child relationship. There is no shame at all in speaking the truth.

  27. cat mommy says:

    Joseph,
    Your post really resonated with me.
    I am now in therapy for mother problems that I didn’t know I had. I spent over 30 years in denial. I woke up with a nervous breakdown realizing that my mother wasn’t who I thought she was. I’ve had two years to sort through a lot of memories good and bad. It is so difficult for the good parts of my mother to coexist in my head with the bad things she did.
    I thought that I had it easy because there was very little disipline in my childhood and I had a lot of freedom. She let me participate in a lot of creative classes such as dance and theater. We ate very healthy food. I had pets that I loved and grew up in a beautiful place with flowers, forests and water. These wonderful things she did are a part of who I am.
    She appeared to be the most doting, loving sort of mother. But she went through a long string of boyfriends before she married my stepfather at age 6. My biological father wasn’t in the picture. She gave me marajuana and once I had taken psychadelic drugs before the age of 10. She also told me that I had been drunk at the age of 3 or 4 because I kept asking for sips at a party.
    I was her confidant at a very young age and didn’t have the maturity to handle her emotional problems. Sometimes her stories were very graphic.
    I now realize that she wasn’t emotionally responsive to my needs as an adult or child. I was the one who had to respond to her.
    She was physically abusive a couple of times, by slapping and she punched me once when I was a teenager. But the worst thing about her was her complete lack of boundries. We were very close and I felt safe in this closeness but looking back I see how inappropriat and sick this relationship was. She wanted to be my best friend and I couldn’t breath.
    I didn’t talk to her for almost a year when I was going through the worst of my realizations. Now I am trying to figure out how to have a relationship with her again. It is hard when the anger comes up again, but I think that remembering the good will help me the most. She came from a horribly abusive home and I know why she is the way she is. I think she is mentally ill as a result of her upbringing. I’m just taking it slow and trying out some boundries. (I am only writing her at the moment) I just wish I could see her better as the whole person she is, not as the good mother or bad mother. Even harder is accepting her for who she is………….

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      The hard part about having a mother like yours is that you have function more as the mother than she does. You have to set the boundaries for her because she probably won’t be able to keep them herself. You’ll have to exercise the kind of empathic care that normally comes from a mother. At the same time, you have to mourn the mother you never had. Still, it sounds like there were some very good things about your mother, so you probably won’t need to distance yourself from her entirely, as some other readers have done with their own mothers.

  28. Lisa says:

    I was/am my mother’s protector. She always seemed pitiful to me and weak. The more therapy I go to, to the more I realize that she had to have allowed the horrible abuse by my father, her husband. She was horribly depressed and I barely remember her doing anything. I took care of cooking and cleaning and caring for my sister. I try to find ways to justify her inability to help. I’m sure I don’t know or can’t remember the whole story. I don’t hate her, just find her such a sad and confused individual and that hurts.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I think your attitude toward her, as painful as it sounds, is understandable and about as good as can be expected, under the circumstances.

  29. lynn stein says:

    I am just curious about the value of ‘holding onto the good stuff’ about a mostly bad mother? I get the value of being positive and it’s helpful to extract some good in all things but I think it is almost more important to have the bad validated and witnessed. I find this sieving for gold in the toxic stuff kinda of a ‘yes but’ response to significant loss and pain that-those of us with mostly bad mothers (or dads) experienced.
    I can tell you some positives but it feels…neutral and flatline.
    Yes, it helps to see life in not absolutes – that I get. But I think people need their sadness and pain ‘held’ and validated more than they need to extract a crumb of some good parts.
    The best part is: I am so happy to be here, in this life. It was worth the price of admission. So to speak.
    And I am able to forgive my mother – simply because (again) I love life and covet the good in it. And I am happy that I survived that upbringing or lack thereof and thrived (and am a proud mother of three amazing sons)
    Just my two cents worth…

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      In my own case, I spent so many years examining and having validated all my feelings about what a bad mother she was that it feels like a question of balance. As a therapist, I would never encourage a client to “look on the bright side” or search out the position. It’s more an issue of seeing the whole truth. Plus I do think it’s important to recognize and value goodness, however small.

  30. Miss Ann says:

    Thank you for this post. My own narcissistic mother is literally on her death bed as I write this. I have taken care of her for 17 years (her addictions are slowly — but now, finally surely — killing her). I feel it takes a lot of courage to say what you said. I am now beginning a process of grieving a mother I never had — not merely the mother who is dying right now. Fortunately, losing one’s mother is a socially acceptable loss, and I feel no obligation to socially clarify the true nature of my grief.

    My family sounds eerily like yours. Very eerily. It makes me wonder how many of us were raised by mothers who were in a valium haze (my own mother was addicted to both valium and alcohol). My father had two very professional jobs which kept him away from home for huge chunks of time. That made the situation worse.

    My counselor is an Adult Child of Normal Parents (lucky him!) and, thus, I am a bit anxious that he might not be able to empthize with — or even really hear — some of the horror stories I need to tell him. Please say a prayer for us. And, best wishes to you for continued love and light in your own life.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Grieving for the mother you never had — I know many people who feel that way. It’s what I felt when my own mother died.

      • My mother died recently and while I am not holding her responsible because the situation is complex, the effect has been that all her daughters are now either physically ill or close to death themselves.

  31. Valentina says:

    It took me hours to find a good memory of my mother. It’s when he told me and my sisters the Tale of Peter Rabbit. It doesn’t utweight years of emotional abuse, but it’s something.
    I have to disagree with you remark about clients who complain about one parent, while the real problem is the other one. I went to therpy complaining about my mother constant emotional abuse, and I still mantain she is a pathological narcissist. the therapist did her best to accuse my father of everything, even of not being intelligent (he made full professor at 39, when average age in his discipline is 50), while his only real fault is basically being too involved in his studies, leaving all the emotional burden of the family lie on my mother’s inadequate shoulders, and, consequently on mine, as I was the eldest of three daughters. Through this helped me to deidealize my father, which was necessary, hearing any complaint about my mother being labeled as “narcissistic” “selfish” and “entitled” made me feel unseen and misunderstood, as I felt in my family.
    Now, on my own, I’m trying to figure out why I choose and spent so much time with a therapist very similar to my mother’s worst sides: self righteous, manipulative, envious… I figured out I could not trust my mother at around ten, when a boy molested me at a scout camp and my mother asked me if i had provoked him by dressing immodestly (in a girl scout uniform!?). Yet at 22 I gave all my trust to a therapist who abused me for the following 7 years.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I didn’t mean to suggest that all clients follow that pattern of complaining about one parent when the other is the real problem. Of course they don’t.

      As for why you entrusted yourself to this therapist, we unfortunately tend to pattern our adult relationships on our earliest ones — hence the number of people who marry someone so similar to one of their parents. It sounded as if you bonded with someone who resembled your mother in important ways.

  32. Jen says:

    My mother could be categorized as a “mostly-bad” mother. Like yourself, my physical needs were provided for (begrudgingly), but emotional needs were largely ignored. Both of my parents had awful childhoods, never failing to remind me of this fact when I was being needy or ungrateful. Shame and fear were used as methods of control, carried out through physical and verbal abuse. Consequently, I struggle with identifying needs and being counter-dependent as a defensive maneuver. My mother is highly narcissistic and envious of anyone in the family giving attention to someone other than her. She has a “divide and conquer” mentality which even applies to extended family members. She is also obsessive-compulsive about cleanliness and order, probably the primary reason why I spent every summer of my childhood locked out of the house all day. Being locked out was oddly preferable to what would have awaited me had I been indoors, mostly cleaning and laundry. When I reached the age of 12, she informed me that it was time to start working and purchase my school clothes. When she finally left (a relief in many ways), I was 14 and she made little effort to have any contact with me, besides triangulating in an attempt to argue with my father. With so much negativity, I struggle to find the good in her. My therapist has inquired about her positive attributes several times over the last few years, and try as I might, I just can’t provide him with any. I believe he perceives my inability as a matter of “splitting,” but it just isn’t there. He also believes that progress is defined by how much contact I have with her (none for the last several years). I’m trying to move beyond my childhood experiences and feel that contact would be counter-productive to that process. Needless to say, it’s been difficult, but the separation has given me an opportunity to focus on myself (finally).

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      From your description, I’m more on your page than your therapist’s. There’s a view in the mental health profession that growth and maturity means reaching an acceptance of our parents, coming to appreciate them and feel some kind of love and gratitude. In cases such as yours, where there is almost nothing good, it can be impossible (and unrealistic) to reach that place. With highly toxic parents, it’s often the healthy thing to do to limit or even put an end to contact.

  33. Kristy says:

    I came across your “Mostly-Bad Mother” article yesterday — the day I came home from a rare visit to my folks. It resonated with me because for the first time I saw most of the little good in my mother as just another facet of her rampant narcissism. Or rather I had problems finding any solid nuggets of goodness at all.

    I used to admire what I took to be her energy, forthrightness, independence, good taste, frugality. But over the past five to ten years, I’ve increasingly seen almost total “control freak” self-centeredness — to the point of eccentricity. Sure, there are people who are self-obsessed, but recently I’ve noticed that every conversation has to revolve around her and if she cannot bring it back to herself, she will simply leave (leave the room, get up from the table or turn and strike up a conversation with strangers if we are out). When she calls on the phone (or I call her) she simply starts talking about herself without even a pro-forma “how are you?” She will continue talking without the slightest break or sign of life from me (no “Uh huh”s or “Really”?s) for at least 45 minutes. I know because I did a little experiment and timed her one day. I’ve had to tell her that I will not talk with her unless she says: “Hello. How are you?” and at least waits for me to say “Fine” or “OK” or something along those lines before starting the monologue (of woe or triumph).

    These conversations remind me of the dinner table of my childhood. Mom, who would eat incredibly slowly and fussily, would simply go over every single detail of her day and ask for approval and admiration from everyone. There was no real conversation. OK, no conversation at all.

    She is a total control freak. I have declared independence and will not tolerate her telling me what to do. Yet, I still got to witness her bossing the rest of our family around and that hurts. She constantly tells my father how to talk, walk, behave, etc. in the most demeaning terms. One of many examples: at dinner Dad says jovically: “Hey, I’d like some butter down here.” She turned to him and said (in a patronizing and affected way): You’re supposed to say: “Please, pass the butter.” At some point during the week, she decided she didn’t like the way the family was saying the dinner prayer and decided that it neede to be recited very slowly with pauses so the family could think about and cherish every word instead of it being merely rattled off. I have been an atheist (secular humanist) for quite some time now. I don’t participate in the diiner prayer, but don’t object to it either. My reaction to the dinner prayer-show? How amusingly but tellingly weird!

    Mom has also decided that my father is not allowed to spend any time on his own, so she makes him come everywhere with her and insists that he be in every room that she is so that she can monitor his activity at all times. This is supposedly because he is getting Alzheimer’s and cannot be trusted, but I personnally do not see Alzheimer’s symptoms in him. I see someone that is being (letting himself be?) abused.

    She absolutely has to be right about everything which leads to the most ridiculous arguments. The last hour we spent together was mostly taken up with her badmouthing my sister behind her back and being furious with me for not joining in (and attempting to side-track her). My sister grew up being the scapegoat of the family. And even though I now think she’s the best of us all — the one who is the most loving, emphatic, normal (in a good way) — she will always be just a bunch of walking character-flaws in my mothers’ eyes (not ambitious, assertive and most of all, *slim* enough to qualify as responsible, virtuous mother to her children). Anyway, after attempting to calm Mom down — getting her to see that even if my sister is “fat,” (which she is not, BTW) this doesn’t mean that she will necessarily get breast cancer (thankfully we do not have much cancer in our family), that her grandchildren will necessarily be orphaned (won’t her husband still be there?), that even if they are orphaned, they will have god-parents, etc.

    This didn’t stop Mom from going on and on about my sister’s other perceived flaws. We are in the car and she is driving (because she refuses to be a passenger in a car) so I found myself a captive audience. She digs up detailed evidence of my sister’s supposed timidity and fecklessness from years and years ago and insists that her narrative is nothing but rock solid, indisputable fact. I tell her that I’m not really interested in hearing this. She then has a complete fit which includes her asserting that it is her “duty” to tell the “truth” to me about my sister; that she is merely attempting to keep me “in the loop” and abreast of the family news; that I’m not really a part of their family any more anyway and that she is going to go home and change the will and disinherit me.

    Around this point, I just decided to be as quiet as possible until we got to where we were going and I could get out of the car. So then she decides to mock me to my father. “Look Charlie, she’s afraid of me now” Me: “No, actually I’m not afraid of you.” Mom: “Never in my entire life have I *ever* thought you were afraid of me!! Me (wearily) “You just said that about 10 seconds ago!” Mom: More silence and finally. Mom: (in a very patronizing tone of voice): “Well, your sister’s problems are none of your business! Stop butting into to our affairs! Etc., etc.” Me: That’s just fine. You brought the subject up! Mom: No, I didn’t.

    She is always right.

    She is also openly planning her next marriage — in front of my father’s face. She tricked me, my sister and her family and my father into paying a visit to her crush (there is a historical house in town that you must see). She mentions him in every other sentence. She altnerately idealizes and denigrates this new guy (the crush) and even went so far once as to refer to him once as her “pet.”

    She openly recognizes that she is and was an “abuser” and seems perversely proud of the fact. Of course, she also recognizes that she was a terrific Mom. Often she will sincerely portray herself as both abuser *and* terrific Mom in the same breath without realizing how totally weird this sounds.

    And, finally, here is a depressing conversation (aka verbal battle) I had with her a few years ago — conversation during which I became much more aware of her narcissism.

    I didn’t like the way she was treating myself and my father, so I called her on her behavior. In response, she made her philosophy explicit: “Groups work best when there is one person in charge — one and only one person (like her, implicitly) who controls everything and makes all the decisions and everyone else just goes along without questioning anythying.” I told her that I believe in dialogue and shared responsibility. She told me that I was wrong — very wrong. That dialogue was terribly inefficient, never works, was WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!! (lots of screaming was involved here). Oh yeah, and believing in dialogue is stupid too, didn’t you know?

    Long story short, I don’t see much hope for her (or my Dad, sadly). She will not do therapy — or at least any therapy that involves her changing. (She is just fine about bringing my Dad in and is always threatening him with it). I don’t live near her (on purpose) and only see them once a year (or less). And still, it hurt so much to go back and to see with such clarity that I was never loved (and that the rest of the family — niece and nephew included — are being actively screwed with).

    What is also hard for me at the moment is that I’m starting to question myself in a way that I never have before. While my sister was the scapegoat, I was the super-achiever, golden girl, etc. Now I’m wondering how narcissistic I am and have been without ever fully realizing it. I know that I am like my mother in quite a few ways. I think that I am more self-aware than she is, and surely not nearly as bad. But still, I sometimes see some of the same character traits in me and I wish I didn’t.

  34. H. Marie says:

    My mother. I don’t even know where to start. I know where I’d finish though….apologizing for all of her faults because I know deep down that she cares for me and my two younger brothers and I expect too much of her. She is merely a human and we all have issues. Deep seeded issues that most of us block out because who wants to face their faults head on? Who can? I know I hate feeling vulnerable or dependent and have done the best that I can to hide the fact that I have always wanted a mother and not a best friend. That I for once would like to have guidance and rules to follow that I could fully believe in would make me a better person. To have a role model instead of having to be the role model for my mother. I love her so much and I wish I could grasp her attention as much as she has always had mine.

  35. RACHEL says:

    I’ve found this site because, at he grand age of 43, I’ve finally realised that many of my own troubles, issues, insecurities, anxieties and what I considered, peculiarities, until recently, are down to being ‘raised’ by a narcissistic mother.
    My sister is now exactly like our mum, despite rallying against her all of her life.
    I don’t want to be a slave to my emotions and anxieties and I’m trying desperately to overcome the way I feel a lot of the time.
    My mother’s good points? She cooked well, she could dressmake like no other, and she was very funny at times. I’ve learned a fair bit about cooking because of her. I'[ve also learned to be massively insecure because of her, too.
    Is there a way to get through this without therapy? I simply can’t afford it.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I feel for people like you who want to do the work but can’t afford therapy. Maybe when my book comes out in October it might be of some use to you.

  36. RACHEL says:

    Thank you for your reply. I’d appreciate anything that will help me understand how to cope with some of the emotions I experience. I am often overwhelmed with a horrible fear that I’m fighting a losing battle and I’m also very scared that I am like my mother in many ways.
    I seem to have many narcissistic traits and the realisation of my self-absorbed attutudes terrify me. I look forward to your book.

  37. Kay says:

    I ran across your website while searching for some kind of insight on how to ease my troubling heart around my mother issues. I consider myself way too old to be continuing the “bad mom, poor me” soga that has haunted me for most of my life. I use to think my major issues were my father’s emotional incest and abandonment, his violence and the sexual abuse I endured from my mother’s brother. In reality I see its really my mother issues. I have been to therapy, had amazing spiritual healings , been to 12 step programs, confronted mommy dearest (a few times), placed my strict boundaries on her ( a few times), and even allowed my walls to come down long enough to get the repeated message “she isn’t ever going to change”. So my question is this. WHY DO I WANT HER TO? after all, I know she isn’t ever going to be emotionally available to me. She can’t be because its all about her.
    The problem is this, she is 79 and I am having to help take care of her. I don’t think she needs the help she claims to need. She wants others to take care of her…just as she always has.
    I resent it because I took care of her as a child…cleaning the house at 7 and taking care of my brothers and sisters from the time I was 7 until I was 12. She was passive and weak, allowing my father to abuse her and others to abuse her children. She let us go without food and abandoned us time and time again.
    She thinks only of herself, and she always has. She is rude, can be harsh, bad-mouths all 7 of her children behind their back. She complains relentlessly to her Dr and anyone who will listen about how she can’t get any of her children to help her (which isn’t so).
    After each time I am around her, I spend the next 24 to 48 hours doubting my self worth. I have nightmares and feel depressed.
    I have to find a way that I don’t need her to be the kind of mother I want.
    How do I finally let go?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I think it involves a process of mourning, of the final recognition that you will NEVER have the kind of mother we all want and deserve. I think it’s a terribly sad process, very much a kind to grief. In the meantime, try not to let her manipulate you. She seems to be so toxic to your self-esteem and you need to keep your distance.

  38. KG says:

    I am struggling with the horrifying realization that my mother was mostly-bad. For most of my life my mother was the martry; a raging alcoholic for a husband and 4 kids she could barely take care of. For many years, I thought my Mother was a saint; she did the best with what she had. As I’ve gotten older (43), I’ve been horrified by the person I call my Mother. She is constantly talking about everyone in the family behind their backs, she builds animosity between siblings, she’s sneaky, vindictive, mean and loves putting us down. I often wonder how a Mother can dislike her own children so? It’s been about 5 years or so that I feel like I’m “on to her” game. It’s a vicious circle of lies, gossip, keeping us all separated….I don’t find that I can deal with that so I’ve stopped talking to her altogether. We live thousands of miles apart, she is in poor health and I am at a point where being away from her is better than being close to her. I feel as though I need help, we have good insurance. I just don’t know if I can rehash 40+ years of abuse and horrors. I fear it will do more harm than good. Do you feel therapy is a necessity for someone like me? I am happily married, I have a beautiful child that I adore. I don’t think my past affects my daily life but it does hurt and there are so many things I want to scream at my mother but don’t because in her eyes, she was perfect and she could care less how I feel. Any time I have tried to talk about things that have happened she replies venomously and is quick to tell me how selfish and full of myself I am. Thanks for letting me vent and for any words of wisdom. :)

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I don’t think that “therapy is a necessity for someone like” you, but I bet you’d find it a relief. You’re obviously anguished about your mother and probably need someone who can support you as your insight deepens. I would also question your statement that your past has no effect on your present. Given you had a mother like that, I find that hard to believe. It must have effects, in ways you can’t see, and it might help to have someone who can help you recognize them.

    • Barbara Dothan Alabama says:

      My mom was like this also, constantly causing hard feelings between siblings, and naturally I as the scapegoat got the brunt of it. She could turn any innocent comment into her own spin and devastate relationships She totally ignored me and always let me know I was not wanted. Then when I would not come around I was such a bad daughter. You can not win with this type mother, its a loosing battle. I am NC with her or any of my family now, I could always see the difference in my friends mothers, they did not treat their daughters like trash. I feel like she treated me like nothing and now she is nothing to me. My father for 50 years was my only support and she had to ruin that at his death. She would be furious when he ever showed me any attention or affection. Naturally she gave all the property and money to my 2 golden brothers. Just more humiliation from her, and I feel if I was to contact her today she would hurt me again. She gets so much pleasure from it and she makes sure I can see her pleasure, when no one else can.

  39. nona says:

    Thanks for writing the story of my life, Doc. I hope you didn’t wait for your mother to physically die to get out of the way-Life was not meant to be a “Life Sentence.” Somehow, I think you know that and I’m genuinely sorry you also had to find your own way out. We didn’t have the internet or a plethora of “Self-Help” (IMO, self-promoting) books during those years.
    I realize this is a somewhat trivial request but may I please have the Spaghetti Sauce recipe? It sounds good and I also like to feed others. It’s a nurturing thing for me as well. (Hard to believe, coming from a skinny-ass old broad, eh? ;) )
    Many thanks. You touch so many lives in a positive way. Hope your latest research is going well.
    Nona

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Hi Nora. It’s not a real recipe since I’ve never seen it written down, and it’s very flexible. Saute onions, and then ground beef in a large dutch oven; add two large cans tomato puree, bay leaves, oregano, salt, pepper and a cup or two of red wine. In another pan, brown two lamb shanks and add to the sauce, cook for a LONG time — several hours, until the meat falls off the bone. Some time during this period, saute a pound of sliced mushrooms and add to the sauce. Good luck!

  40. John says:

    Just like you, my mom and I connected over music, but it also pushed us apart. Once, I was practicing guitar and having a hard time of it. My mom was in the next room, and she poked her head in the doorway and said, “You’ll never sound like Chet Atkins if you keep playing like that.” I grew up listening to her play this Swedish folk song on the piano. I had heard it so many times, I knew it by heart, so one day I played for her. I thought she’d be happy, but she was furious. She glared at me. I guess I had showed her up, or encroached on her territory, or showed her she didn’t have special knowledge or abilities. I never knew what would set her off.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      The mother who uses her children to meet her own narcissistic often feels hostile when they separate, and envious if she feels that they have more than she does. I wonder if that was the case with you and your mom.

      • John says:

        I think so. I also think, looking back, that I picked up her enviousness from a very early age. I cannot stand to see anyone who has something I don’t have, and as I get older (I’m 48), it gets more difficult to deal with, because I see people younger than me who appear to have achieved more than me already. I try to remember that envy has to do with not seeing what talents and abilities you yourself have been given.

        • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

          Yes, and it also has to do with shame. I think envy is normal, and usually bearable, but when infused with shame, it poisons everything.

  41. amy says:

    Yuck. You know, I’m sure there are lovely things about my mom, but I’m not her apologist. I haven’t talked much to her in years, after many bouts of “omg she’s awful, I have to stop talking to her,” followed by silence, followed by “oh come on, she can’t be that bad, surely I’m overreacting,” followed by contact, followed by “omg, no, she really is that bad,” after jawdroppers like “Your brother needs a new personality, the one he has now is a failure.” I don’t like to think of her stuffing her dog in a closet. It was easier and cheaper than dog-training school, I guess.

    The last big rupture came a decade ago, after I realized that no, I couldn’t give this violent, unstable woman my newborn to hold. Wasn’t gonna happen. I invited her to develop a relationship with her granddaughter, chaperoned of course, and she fell into a multi-year sulk which I mostly missed, not talking to her. There’ve been a few other unpleasant episodes over the years; she met my daughter once, and I thought things were going great, but suddenly she clouded over and had to leave. Still have no idea what happened there.

    At this point I can laugh with my friends about her awfulness, like when she abruptly decides that this year a birthday present is in order and sends…something she maybe found in the back of her closet? An old promotion that came with makeup? Whatever it is, it’s nothing I have any use for. This is a woman who spends tens of thousands on cruises annually, but can’t be bothered to ask her granddaughter what she’d like for her own birthday. Doesn’t seem to notice that I’m a single mother who struggles to get by, either, and has pulled the red-queen shtick often enough that I’ve had to block her email.

    A couple days ago she wrote — prompted by my hanging-on grandma, I think, who wants to see reconciliation before she dies — saying she’s getting older and would like a relationship. (Oddly, my father just did the same thing.) I told her, in less sharp terms than this, that I’m not a Disney family-fantasy ride for those heading into dotage; I work harder than she ever has and do more with less help, and I don’t have time or energy for this sort of thing. And that if it was relationships she wanted, she’d have to be the one to put the work in, and show me that things had changed, maybe over a year or so, and then I’d probably be willing to give it a go — but that if I saw flashes of the old stuff, all that good work would be wasted. And that she’d have to treat my daughter really quite well, consistently, or my daughter would be the one to close the door — she’s used to grownups treating her well and kindly. No fits of anger, cruel talk about other people, meanness, etc.

    The reply was just so — dumb. “I truly feel sorry for you.” That’s it. Well, it is the age of irony. There’s no point in replying to her, of course, but — oddly enough, so do I. I have all these friends with awesome parents who show up, and come through, and all. I went to stay a couple weeks with a cousin and his wife, same generation as my mom, and I practically had the bends from how well they treated not just me and my daughter, but *their own grown son*. Totally floored — it was like they loved us, or something. I still feel guilty about how well I was treated there, and suspect I behaved ferally.

    Alas, self-pity’s not a helpful resting place. So — I shrug and go on, and wonder if I’ll have to tell my grandma that it’s time to let go, let happen what will, and stop putting herself in the middle like this, because at this point I’ve got way more stamina than she does, and I really don’t want to say things that’ll make an old sick lady feel miserable. But I will if she doesn’t knock it off. So for everyone’s peace. She’s down with the realpolitik like that. If it’d do any good, I’d resent having to go through this. But it doesn’t, so. It’ll all be over soon enough.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Beautifully expressed. Thanks so much. I especially liked when you said you weren’t “a Disney family-fantasy ride for those heading into dotage.” I got a good laugh out of that, although I also see that it’s not so funny.

  42. Rachael says:

    My mum had so many good bits, and struggled through so much (external, not self-created) hardship, putting me and my emotional and physical needs first even when bereaved, physically ill and overworked, that it made it difficult for me to examine the bad bits for years, which I feel held me back from being able to gain insight into them and their effect on me.

  43. Drew says:

    I am reading and wanting to comment because I dont want to be that mostly bad mother. My only wishes and accomolishments is to be “The Best Mother I can be” I had a Mother that every child dreams of. Thats what I strugle at times trying to be the best Mother when I have one bad luck after another, I try and pick myself up each time, but it seems to be my luck. My son’s father died when he was 8 and now he is 13, also his grandmother, “”my everything” His great grandmorther, “my Angel”. It leaves us with the two of us. My son didnt get to have a family, like I did growing up. He is he only child. I just feel like I am failing as a Mother, I am short tempered, I raise my voice, then when its all over, thats when I relize thats not the Mother I want to be. I know my son will be succsesfull and go on, but for now I just want to be “the best Mother I can be” but struggling.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      The fact that you’re aware of all this, that you continue to struggle to do your best, means you most definitely won’t be a mostly-bad mother. My guess is that it might help you to identify your mother’s and grandmother’s shortcomings. They both sound fairly ideal, and compared to an ideal, we all fall short.

  44. KM says:

    I idolized my mother and father until I met my husband and began a new life with him. While I somehow knew that my childhood was “off”, I did not realize just how “off” and not normal it was and should have been. Being with someone who loved and accepted me for who I was and being surrounded by his family was a true eye-opener for me. I thought his family was weird, but as I met other friends and their families, I began to realize that maybe my family was not normal.
    I do have fond memories of my childhood – traditions around the holidays, playing games, meals, etc. However, I have so many more bad memories that seem to come to the forefront when I try to remember the good times.
    I am trying not to hold a grudge, but try to learn from the experience so as not to repeat the behavior with my own family. I was fortunate enough to become really good friends with a coworker and her guidance and friendship and shown me how to love and empathize with my children and husband and try to be a good mother. She has been a great role model for me.
    My mother also had a terrible childhood, based upon her stories and memories. She cannot cite any happy memories of her childhood. However, instead of learning from it, she uses it as an excuse as to why she acts or acted the way she has. She takes no responsibility for her actions. Similar to others on this site, I do not recall many moments in which she made me feel loved. She has never apologized for anything wrong she has done to me, my husband or my children. When I have tried to confront her about any wrongdoing, she will go off on a tangent with some bizaar story about something that happened to her that has no relation to our conversation or is even true for that matter.
    I could post many of the situations that have occurred in my life that have been tarnished by my mother’s actions. I was made to feel as the black sheep of the family as I would not succumb to my mother’s controlling grip. I would not abide by her rules and do what she said. I did my own thing that made me happy and was my choice, not hers. I believe that was hated and shunned me for that. My brother and sister, however, chose to do everything that she wanted and loved being “bought” by her. My sister has since committed suicide and my brother, now 42, lives at home with her with no sense of individuality or responsibility. And yet, I am the one who is wrong.
    I need to sever ties with this woman and because she is my mother, I am having difficulty doing so. I am so afraid of becoming like her, it scares me to pieces. I want to love my children, support their decisions and help them to grow and be happy and successful adults. I do not want to control their actions or manipulate them based on what I want. I want them to be able to trust me, talk to me and I want to be there for them when they need me.
    I cannot help but wonder how this woman, who appears to have a mental disorder is my mother. I try to surround myself with people who make me feel good about myself and encourage me to do better. I take responsibility for my actions and apologize where and when necessary. I hug and kiss my children and make them feel loved. It is such an easy emotion and the rewards are better than words can describe.
    Why was this so difficult for my own mother?

    • SKG says:

      Wow KM, it sounds like we have the same mother. However, my grandparents adopted me when I was 3 and raised me until 15, at which time I went to live with my mother and 2 younger brothers – at my insistence. What a mistake that was. Basically, my mother has acted more like a mentally ill step-sister to me all of my life. She completely resents the fact that her mom and dad were also my “mom and dad”. She blames all of her bad behavior and inability to show emotion or even carry on a normal relationship with anybody or any thing on her abusive mother, who, by the way, did not abuse me. She justifies that by saying, with me, they tried to right their mistakes. She also claims to have been unaware that her parents were adopting me as it happened. What kind of mother does not know this? She went on to live her life and marry 5 times and have 4 kids by 4 different men, the last one a love child of a married man. She is now a miserable, single 60 something, bible beating caretaker of her father. She lives 350 miles from me and has this expectation that I should be visiting my grandfather once a month. Her expectations never cease to amaze me. It is as if they are disjointed from reality. She invites me and my daughter to Thanksgiving, yet doesn’t set a place for me and says she wasn’t sure I was coming. (I had spoken to her an hour before.) Then afterwards she complains I didn’t bring anything to the dinner. You didn’t tell me to bring anything. She told me my crackhead brother and his lunatic wife would not be there, but guess who was sitting at the table in his wifebeater when I got there? Her constant lying and contortion of the truth make me hesitant to even believe she was abused. I have an aunt (her sister) that has not spoken to our family for 35 years. I’ve yet to figure that one out. I can only think that was the best route for her and possibly for me now. My mother is hateful, vindictive, dishonest, a cheater and insanely jealous of anybody else that cares for me. After a break up, I found myself with two car notes. I met a lovely man and started dating him. His mother is tremendous! I love her! I gave her the extra vehicle and she pays the note each month because she was in need of a vehicle. It’s a perfect arrangement. My mother is so ugly that she said the women loved me because “I GAVE” her a car. As if nobody would love me otherwise. She went on to say I’m a whore and an adulterer because I am living with my significant other in a committed relationship. I’m actually feeling very angry writing this and could probably go on all night. Suffice it to say, she is misery. She can’t cook, has no talent, is scary smart, but doesn’t use it for good. She was always spying on her men, finding ways to cheat on her taxes or collect multiple government benefits at once. She’s been to jail for everything. One of her son’s is a murderer in prison for life, the other won’t speak to her, and the third is a recovering drug addict who lived under a bridge the past 10 years and showed up to Thanksgiving. I’m so over the whole thing. She tried to make me feel as if I owe her. What do I owe her? What do I owe to that bit of horniness in the back of my dad’s car in 1967? I am the only one of her children that is a functioning member of society. I have never been arrested, never used illegal drugs, was not pregnant in my teenage years, graduated high school, went to college, got married, had kids and now my kids are grown up and I have a career which she calls slave employment and says is stagnant, unmotivated, self indulgent and the path of least resistance. I am a project manager for a major Fortune 50 company for God’s sake for the last 8 years! While she refuses to acknowledge I’ve accomplished anything, she still coddles her druggy little needy son who sucks the life out of society on social security disability because he burned his brain cells on heroin and meth. None of this is her fault of course. She was “abused”. But she is quick to point the finger and tell me each and everything about my daughter is MY fault. Maybe my daughter, like me, is just sick of the shenanigans. I’m tired of drama during the holidays. Oh and the best part? She never fails to accuse me of sleeping with all of her boyfriends/husbands since I was an adult. If it weren’t for my husband holding me back, I think I would have bashed her dentures down her throat one Christmas. Who does that? What kind of mother BELIEVES her daughter is THAT trashy and just makes up her mind that she’s done these terrible things when they haven’t really happened? She always takes bits and pieces of my life and weaves them into a story about herself, as if they happend to HER! The woman is psychotic and I really feel my only choice is to disassociate myself from her.

      I also surround myself with my surrogate family that is loyal and true, loving and secure. I have also broken the chain when it comes to loving my kids. I kiss and hug them, tell them I love them. This is something she’s been unable to EVER do. My daughter is grown up now with a one year old and is still able to tell me everything. Don’t worry, there is hope for you with your kids. I always told myself I was never going to be like her and I am NOT.

  45. Carrie says:

    Joseph,

    I came across this post today, and aside from being her not being an alcoholic and me not having enough self worth left to even realize how damaged I was by the time I was 18 (it’s taken me until now, well into my 40’s and following a busted up marriage to get help), you have pretty much described by mother and my life with her to a perfect T. I struggle, and might always, to find something good about her and I want so badly to believe that there is. Until then, I will hang on to your words here, read them again and again, and continue working at maybe one day finding just one good thing about her that I can hold in my memory. I suppose however the one thing that I do have from her now that I have children of my own is an excellent example of what a mother shouldn’t be.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Boy, that’s not a lot. But I guess it helps to know you’re not alone and that other people can relate.

      • Carrie says:

        It’s not a lot…but it’s at least something!

        I had also wanted to say that I’ve been reading other posts on your blog and you are a really wonderful writer – don’t stop!

        And thank you for your reply.

  46. Raven says:

    Thank you Dr. Burgo for hosting this blog. It has been very helpful and reassuring to read your observations and people’s comments as I seek to understand my relationship with my narcissistic mother.

    Our troubled relationship finally came to a head this summer. Her behavior was so egregious that I could no longer tolerate it and it was simply too painful for me (in my late 40s!) to continue trying to make things work. I sought out therapy, EMDR and self help books (look forward to buying yours!) and a period of no contact.

    As part of that self-work it was extremely helpful for me to journal everything. It was such a relief to realize I was NOT crazy and that sadly I had many, many reasons for feeling as I did about my mother.

    As part of my journaling, I am also recording the good memories I had of my mom. I was so thankful to have some good memories of her, that it wasn’t all bad. Of course, it’s the wrong ratio (80% bad memories to 20% good).

    Fortunately, EMDR is really helping to reduce my anxiety around the bad memories and that it wasn’t my fault that she was (and is) a mostly-bad mother. It’s so good to get to a more neutral place.

    My cluster of mostly-good memories is that she was a good housewife (clean house, tidy yard, good meals); worked hard, made sure me and my sisters had lessons even when money was tight; was intellectually curious, survived some tough times, was kind to our dogs and cats. So she had traits I admire.

    And thankfully I am a mostly very-good mother. When I hit trigger points with my kids, I have enough self-awareness and inner motivation to work though it (mostly unresolved childhood issues which once identified fade quickly).

    I am lucky too because I had very warm loving relationships with both my grandmothers. And my dad, who for all his faults, had a very warm loving heart.

    Thank goodness, it does NOT have to get carried down through the generations!

    It is very encouraging to see people here seeking to work through these issues.

  47. Grace says:

    Hello
    I stumbled upon this site after having Googled “My mother was a bad person, she died, and I don’t know what I am supposed to feel”.
    I am not sure but I think what I am needing is to tell someone that she is dead. She died November 22, 2012, in the nursing home she’d been in for the past two years, while watching The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She was 82 years old. Her death occurred while I was “high” in the skies making my way to Oregon to meet my first grandchild. My daughter’s daughter.
    I am 55 and have been estranged from her since age 13, when I ran away. Oh yeah there was that very brief time, early in my marriage and just starting my own family, that I welcomed her, wanted and felt I needed her to be a part of my new life.
    Nay!!! Didn’t work out. The level of toxicity,venomous poisons, and crazy landmines were just too much. It was too painful and too dangerous. So at age 30 I walked way and didn’t look anyways but forward.
    I did my own therapy and “worked through” my issues. I later went on to become a psychotherapist. I came to understand this woman her from the perspective of having “Borderline Personality Disorder” and developed a true empathy for her and her very traumatic/tragic life. In my work I am known as the therapist who can comfortably work with this personality structure. Nonetheless, she always has remained dangerously toxic for me.
    So here it is she is dead. Why am I crying? Why do I wish I could share this with other people, wish for condolences of how sorry they are for my loss. What loss? Do I deserve sympathy? Does she deserve my tears?

  48. Skylark says:

    Dear Grace,
    I walked along your path this year. My mother died sometime in May. I had to go to Hawaii, alone, to close up her home after she died in it. It was emotionally grueling and an extraordinary amount of work as she’d become a hoarder in her last years. She lived in a beautiful retirement community but had alienated everyone.
    I look a lot like my mom. As I worked day after day going in and out of her place, most people looked at me and walked by in silence. After a couple of days of me smiling and saying. “Hi” to everyone I passed, a few stopped to say to me, “You know, you look just like you mother.” That was all they ever said. Nobody said the normal things you hear when a family member dies like, “I’m sorry for your loss”. Most notable was the complete absence of any kind words about my mother. No words of how they’d miss her friendship or of any nice things she’d done. So heartbreaking.
    Yes, Grace, I believe you do deserve sympathy for your loss and although I don’t know you, I share your grief. I too cried without understanding why. When I cleaned out my mother’s home and went through all the years of journals she’d written I realized with the most certain finality possible that she never ever loved me. As horrible as she’d been to me there was still a place deep inside me that held out hope that I’d find out that in her own limited way she really did love me. But she didn’t. She was no more capable of loving me than my car is.
    I’ve spent the past months learning about narcissism and it’s helped me come to terms with who she was. Recently I wrote the following that, for me, was a sort of eulogy for my mother.

    My mother died this year
    On the floor of her kitchen
    In her home in Hawaii
    But nobody knew for awhile

    My mother died alone… completely
    Not a grandma, a sister, a friend or a wife
    The unfathomable result of having alienated
    Every last person in her turbulent life

    My mother was brilliant
    And beautiful
    And educated and professionally accomplished
    And she scared the hell out of me for most of my life

    She’d tear you to shreds for breathing the wrong way
    And you didn’t always see it coming
    Sometimes you’d relax a little and start to breath
    Like a regular person would… WRONG MOVE!

    My mother could be charming
    And she could act so endearing
    You could almost think there might be hope
    Until she reminded you that you were such a hopeless, stupid, idiot…. DOPE!

    Mental illness isn’t cute
    Or conversation worthy
    Like a broken leg with a cast to sign
    Gee, how’d that happen – oh, what a story!

    It’s not easily diagnosed or treated they say
    Won’t show up on a CAT scan or a trusty x-ray
    So that docs could say with a comfortable clarity and lots of conviction
    Why, it’s narcissism dear and we’ve got a prescription

    Here you go sweetie, take these new pills
    Two each day and they’ll cure all your ills
    In twenty-four hours you’ll be so good as new
    Even Mother Theresa would take lesson from you

    My mother died this year
    Alone
    Completely
    Sometime about two…. or it may have been three
    Weeks before her eightieth birthday

    Don’t let this happen to you

  49. DHB says:

    Wow. I didn’t know how not alone I truly am. I always try to find the good and then a day like today comes along where good ole Dad tells me that I am “slowly killing my son for the way I treat him” (I slept through one of my son’s tearful night sessions).

    And he is so far up my mother’s behind that I am surprised he can see. She gives him permission every day to continue being the jerk that he is.

    Thanks for this. I feel hopeful.

  50. MJ says:

    Oh Lordy, I just commented on the Narcissistic Mother post and this one fits my mom really well too. She never got rid of any of our pets, but when I was little we had a dog that only liked my mom and snapped at dad and me. When I expressed a desire to get a nice pet that liked me, she’d remind me, in a very ugly, hate-filled voice, that we could get another pet, but we’d have to kill Frosty first. I think she really relished hurting me (her only child, born to make her feel good about herself and be perfect, but of course no one could ever be perfect enough to please her for long).

    She sounded like your mom – angry, vengeful and full of scorn and envy. In my case, she has always clung to her own father – a nasty, sexist, philandering drunk (who did have a strong artistic streak – talented but a jerk) who belittled her constantly and bullied her out of art school and an engagement that might have been a happy marriage for her. He’s been dead 20 years now and she still will not permit any suggestion that “daddy” was ever wrong, or cruel. He was perfect, he knew everything, she was so grateful to have him in her life. He was right to keep her from her dreams and the person she loved, because blah blah blah. He was – this is a classic – right to take her to strip clubs when she was in her 20s so she could “see what an attractive woman looked like.” Barf (my editorializing). I would have killed the SOB with my bare hands, but that’s just me – she still thinks that was a wonderful daddy-daughter activity. Or she “says” that’s what she thinks.

    I knew when I was under 10 that mom and her father were both evil and nuts and, thank goodness, never got sucked into worshipping them (though they did suck me into believing I was nothing unless I was constantly impressing and pleasing them, which led me to being a miserable 40 year old who still feels empty and worthless at times). I think she hated me for a long time because I had my own mind, I’m smart and successful, and I stood up to her and her “daddy” when they acted like assholes (all the time). I also think that in a way she really wanted me to be her daddy (she was always pushing me to be like a man, making comments about what a pathetic woman I am (ugly, unwomanly, unfeminine), how I needed to be a great success who crushed people and took what I wanted from life, etc.) and give her perfect love in return, or to just be a towering colossus of wealth and prestige that gave her all the credit and perfect love. Instead she got her karmic pay-back – someone who sees through her and her father, learned to stand up to her, and doesn’t care what she thinks, says or feels anymore. She did get me, in the end, to be a repeat of her daddy – not impressed, not interested, not reflecting back all of the energy directed towards me in the form of perfect, glowing love, ultimately preferring to be with other people, doing things without her. Karma’s a bitch at times.

  51. Maria says:

    About my mostly bad mother. She’s aware of it but does very little to change her nasty was. I found out in my middle 40’s I suffered from anic and anxiety…she used to make me take cold showers while being spanked…. I learnd to live with the good memories but as time goes by and I have had the opportunity to share day to day life with her, speak of the times were my siblingns and I were growing up, and listen her version of all (no exageration) kinds of events is quite different from reality. Is almost as is she believes I either was not there, I have no memory or she has trained herself to believe her own lyes. I have countless memories of humilliation and embarrassment. I believe my mother rejoyces in other people’s misfurtunes, it gives her something to judge others….her brain goes back and forth between how giving she can be and how brave and determine n life she always was. The unfurtunate thing about all of her faults is that they have manage to enter my life and take a good art of my time and thoughts. I know how t block all pain, but I know that is only temporary and It will never really go away for good. Once hurt, is done. How is it that I feel guilt for not loving my mother how any child should?

  52. Jean says:

    Some people should never have children. My mother is one of those people. Unfortunately she hac six. Enough said

    • Anonymous says:

      I was searching for people that feel the same way. There is allot to say about bad children but not about bad mothers. I feel ashamed because i do not love my mother. I’m 40 and can not get over the way she still treats me.
      Is it wrong to cut all ties?

      • Horrible mother in law says:

        My mother in law gave birth to 7 children yet only really likes one. This particular child is a 50 year old man that behaves like a 5 year old. Stomps his feet and has learned to be as selfish as his dear old mother. Of the 7 children she gave birth to, ALL have severe mental issues. Alcohol and drug problems, bi-polar disorder, divorces, cheating on spouses with maids, and actually signed off on her daughter being admitted in a 51-50 facitity against her will, the docctor ereleased her because mental illness was unfounded. One now lives with her after being a non-existant parent for 8 of the 10 years married, now back in mommy’s house at almost 50 and had to go to court to PAY child support for 4 kids on public assistance. she also wouldn’t allow his oldest daughter use their address so she can go to the school in the neighborhood with the favorite sons daughter. She hides behind being a good Christian and the fact that the Lord has forgiven her but I can’t stand her. Her children have gatherings for the holiday’s and invite only her but everyone else needs to fend for themselves. She would rather that she have 4 different invites then ask these mismatched group of idiots to have everyone over. Then, I’m told by them that this is what they do and they only do certain things a certain way. I stopped making and going to gatherings..Why? No thank you’s, no invites, no anything. Who needs them, they are disgusting people that will never changed based upon the wonderful mothering they received so they can’t pass it forward. Oh, now we have one who checked him into an in patient facility for depression. This is the same one that is empty inside and made fun of another silbling who suffers from the same illness.

  53. Happier without her says:

    My mother now uses the notion of “tradition” as reason to be sad, angry and disappointed with all of her children, alternately or in succession depending on what has triggered her ire.

    My brother and I are hard working, fair minded, considerate people who own our own businesses and have achieved good recognition and respect in our fields yet she always finds a reason to berate us for not being “good asian children”. This notion makes no sense. We were raised in America with virtually no contact with any asian sort of community or extended family. We were not taught her native language or anything about the culture excluding the occasional native dinner. Our father was a first generation american military veteran who took us camping and fishing and we grew up pretty much “American” all the way.

    I moved my father to my town of residence and looked after him on and off for 6 years up until he died. He was on life support for a week and she and her current husband came up to “be there”. In the middle of this traumatic experience she asked to go for a drive together and “get some air” then proceeded to alternately praise me for taking care of him then scream at me telling me that she’s rather be in the street than have me care for her in her time of need because I “talk back to her”.

    She is a tyrant and uses the idea of asian respect as a reason for her to treat her children like criminals for the slightest infraction. In the last 6-7 years, including the time of my father’s death, if I disagreed with her in any way I was being mouthy and she threatened to disown me in particular, not my brother, not my sister, just me.

    Her behavior has not changed and it will not change. I have talked to her, cried with her and yet she repeatedly returns to the same position of fear, anger and resentment. I get depressed, sick inside and sort of paralyzed whenever I have contact with her. I do not want her grossness seeping into my space and so I have decided that because she affects my health so deeply I have to completely disconnect. I love myself. It seems like the lesson she keeps trying to teach me is to hate myself. Most of everything about her feels poisonous to me. I feel sad for her and myself and that tempts me into contacting her but it usually ends the same, she is jekyll and hyde.

    It feels way too late in life, me 46/her 77, to try any new approaches as they are all met with the same venom. At this point I really feel like she had HER life and HER chance to be here in this bitter sweet wonderful world and I want mine, without her cruelty, emotional blackmail and vicious words. She always needs to be angry with someone. I can understand that her point of view is absent minded self hatred and other things stemming from her own experience but I just cannot be near it. It is out of my control and I just want peace.

    Being able to write this somewhere is important to me. Obviously I struggle with the sadness of having a mom that is a mean bitch at the end of most interactions. I do not relish the decision to cut off ties at all, I pride myself on being there for people and being a kind compassionate person.

    I cannot, however, continue to drink from a poison well and send this crap down the generational line of existence.

    Thank you,
    Hope

  54. Gerry says:

    This is the first time I have ever made a comment on a public forum. I have suffered in silence as I felt so much shame for having a mother who was for the most part evil. I know from having done extensive research that my mother has narcissistic personality disorder. I think I know where and how my mother developed into a narcissist but after much time I no longer made excuses for her being a cruel human being. She is 84 years old now yet I am absolutely in the belief that no one ever earns the right to be cruel to another person, ever!
    My nightmare started when I was around 11 years old. Before this time mother was a decent mom. Since eleven years old I lived in a constant state of turmoil. If I were to write all the ways that this was accomplished by mother I would have to write a novel. In fact the very fact that I am alive right now to write this is a miracle. I was also the scapegoat of my family.
    Around 10 years ago I left a marriage of 25 years with 2 children and the clothes on my back. I was married to an Air Force fighter pilot who was manipulative and controlling. I guess you could say I recreated the scene I had during my teenage years with my mother. When I left my marriage I became severely depressed as I tried to cope with all the changes in my life. During this time I started to really take a look at my life and why I made the choices I did. In doing this I also discovered that I had a mother with narcissistic personality
    disorder. Don’t get me wrong I knew my mother planted a seed in me full of self doubt and anxiety but I alone turned that seed into a redwood tree with bad choices. I knew that I needed to change.
    Every day is an upward struggle to reprogram my mind but I am trying. My mother may have deprived me from a happy past but I will not allow her to destroy the life I have left. I owe it to myself and my children to be happy.
    I have a Charlie Brown comic strip that is framed in my house and it sums up how I plan to move forward in life. It goes like this…….Charlie Brown; “Do you ever think much about the future Linus?” Linus; “Oh yes..All the time.” Charlie Brown; “What do you think you’d like to be when you grow up?” Linus; “Outrageously happy!”

  55. Fran says:

    I think Dr. Burgo’s client and I had the same mother. The stories are nearly identical. That in itself offers tremendous healing. – Thank you

  56. Eh72 says:

    My mother is somewhat similar to yours. My mom grew up from a poor family and she being the sickest and eldest, she had to take care of her family when grandma was busy working. Her dad (my grandpa) was an unsuccessful businessman and passed on when she was quite young. Anyhow, I think that’s how my mom became a perfectionist, narcissistic, over-bearing parent. She would tell me that she married my dad because she wanted someone who would ‘struggle’ with her (financial wise). She is very money-minded and married my dad just cause of a family tradition. Anyhow, growing up my brother and I was taken care by our ever-changing maids. Until I picked a maid that stuck with us for about 10 years. She became jealous of that maid and would shout or scream at us for calling our maid and scream at our maid for not doing as she says. My maid would sometimes pitied us and give us some candies or some things we desired behind my mother’s back.

    Now I’m in my adult years, and things have gotten quite bad. I am starting to feel like I am becoming the family black sheep. My dad is an absent dad who never cares or bothers. My mother would say very nasty things to me just to hurt me / out of spite. She would shout at me when I want something and she disagrees, she shouts at me a lot in public and would embarrass me most of the times. I would always tell her to keep her voice down. I do kind of pity her because she is not a really good friend. She backstabs people, she gossips and yet she goes to church almost every day! She of course puts God first in front of family and neglects her mother duties. She cares about money more than anything else in the world. Even when my brother and I got really sick (separately) she would rather us take her supplements than bring us to the doctor, unless we insisted. She would always dismiss our opinions and views and plays victims when we disobey or tell us off.

    I remember very fondly the time when she told me that even when parents are wrong, they know deep down they are wrong, but we cannot tell them that they are wrong. Cause they are always right. What kind of effed up theory is that? I told her off that no, if you are in the wrong you are in the wrong. And to that, she had nothing to say. It is stupid and ridiculous. There are times where I feel like she is more of a mom ( she does show concern here and there.. Especially after she comes back from church/mass. I guess God did do her some good in a way, but she would always go back to her old habits.) This just confirms that my mom cannot be changed. She is so stuck in herself, in her ways, she fails to see that her insensitivity and inability to love, to show compassion and empathy has caused a lot of people (relatives) to stay away from her. She manipulated us into thinking that they are the ones at fault (she is no longer speaking to ANY of her siblings and seem to not be bothered by that?!?!).

    She loves playing the martyr, the victim. She always presents herself as the sinner as well.. where she goes to Church because she has to atone for all of our sins. And that I am a big sinner and I am sick because I don’t have God in my life. She has caused emotional damage, leading me unable to keep stable relationships. I went to see a therapist last year behind their back but could not anymore. Because of her, sometimes I am unable to take care of myself because she always deem my efforts or my methods are not the correct way. My parents always want things done their way and I feel like a prisoner in my own home…

    I now cope by writing in my journal, and re-learning my own identity. I no longer go to church because of my mom, but I still believe in a God. I used to have lots of self-pity for myself. But I am learning to take things in my stride, and believe that I can be my own parent. It is a pity that parents like mine will never be able to appreciate God’s greatest gift– the gift of life, the miracle itself, their child.

  57. Shannon says:

    The “mostly bad mother”. That’s a perfect title for many mothers isn’t it? No, she didn’t sell me into prostitution or beat me, I was fed, I was clothed, etc. I can’t tell a horrid story of abuse. All I can say is that she sucks the happiness out of me every time she’s near. She’s sarcastic, bitter, vain, needy, all those things and more, but I can’t call her evil. And I think that’s what’s most hard, because if she was just pure out evil I could let her go.

  58. W.R.R. says:

    Thank you for this post, and this whole site, Dr. Burgo. My mother is a complex and very broken person. She was probably raised with being sexually and physically abused, then married my father. While I felt that I loved her, both parents abused me physically and sexually; he mostly hurt me and she rarely hurt me, but sexual abuse damages with or without physical harm. She worshipped him, so leaving to save us both was never considered. My father rented me out to pedophiles for money and my mother would say, “He hit you because you didn’t obey him. Please don’t make him angry.” I am making progress in therapy to see the monster that my father was instead of blaming myself for how I am now. However, it has been far more difficult to see the wrong she did. I often cling to the few good memories as a defense to protect her from my own sense of anger that she also abused me. This article helped me in seeing that maybe I don’t need to feel guilt about laying the blame for her crimes at her feet instead of my own. Again, thank you. I think I just bookmarked over a hundred of your posts. Thank you for writing them.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      What a painful story. Sometimes it strikes me as so perversely unjust, that those of us who suffer from monsters like your father end up blaming ourselves for what went wrong. I can give you the psychodynamic explanations for why we do so, but from a different perspective, it just seems so unfair!

  59. C Marie says:

    It’s sad honestly. This article brought up so many awesome memories. My mom was abused growing up and had me out of wedlock. My birth father signed all rights away and she met a man a year later. They married and to this day I call him dad. Before there divorce, she would beat us with hangers, belts, throw things at us. She wouldn’t make us take showers, remind us to brush our teeth, anything. Always we would eat junk food and easy to prep food, the food groups were never implied. Once, my brother and I kept arguing that she forced me a handful of pills and told me to swallow them. I was shaking uncontrollably and told her I felt really sick and her reply was to shut the f- up. My mother often accused my father of cheating on her and im sure they both cheated multiple times. A few times she apparently tried to kill herself, once of which was in our garage with the car running. Shortly after there divorce I was mentally abused by my stepmom and physically abused by my real mom. They forced me to live with my birth mom for a school year. That year consisted of me washing clothes in the bathtub, me washing my hair with a bar of soap, her recieving food stamps and refraining me from ever eating food unless it was ramen noodles. Her not coming home for days at a time bragging about doing lines of coke in a millionaires home and then coming home sobbing for days because he never called her again. She would always throw things at me then blame me for her nuerotic actions. One time I hosted a party ( on a night I figured she was out) and the first thing she asks when she walks in the door is if she could hit someones joint! I used to pour out and water down her vodka so that the abuse would stop. It never stopped. One night she brought home a bottle of whiskey and offered to do shots with me. I told her I didn’t drink whiskey and she said too bad. We did 8 shots each, I puked and decided to go to bed. I heard screams flipped on the light and saw blood everywhere. On the walls, on the phone, all over her bed. She said she was okay and that she called 911, I took a shower and paramedics asked me if I could call anyone. I made the call and spent the night at a guys house from school. About a week later I came home from school and my mom was gone as well as most of my belongings. I called my dad and stepmom and I moved in with them. I felt neglected, abandoned, unloved… A few years later she got in contact with me and I flew out to visit her. She was pregnant again. I bought her groceries, a new outfit and took her to a nice dinner! We came back and her fiance overdosed on heroine in the bathroom. We called 911 and did cpr on him. When I returned from my vacation, I noticed hundreds of dollars worth of belongings were missing. To this day she lives on welfare and is at risk of losing her child because of her alcohol and drug habits. I will never be that. I have finished some school, worked with celebrity clients, accomplished many goals and pray that whenever I have kids they do not go through what I went through. I am looking at doing fostercare since im infertile and know I could be a good example to a child that has suffered from abuse! It took years of secrecy and years of therapy to recover from this. Sometimes I look back and say I can’t believe how strong I have become of this. I worked multiple jobs and supported myself through the beginning of college. I made the honor roll and I hosted 80% of the off campus parties – alcohol and drug free. To all of you who have suffered from abuse, you are not alone. Don’t let it tear you down as a person, just motivate yourself to be a better person and maintain a good relationship with yourself, you significant other and with christ. -C marie, 24

  60. Libby Taylor says:

    Oh my goodness, this definitely speaks to me and my childhood. I grew up the youngest of three with two older brothers. From my earliest memories I remember my mother as so self absorbed and flat out depressed. I always felt like she hated me. On my 10th birthday she didn’t even get out of bed. My father took me to an amusement park for the day, and I remember her barely coherent, I believe she was on Xanax or Valium or some other prescription med that left her in a stupor, although she would deny it now. I had the singing lead in the musical in the 5th grade, and was so happy and proud of what I had accomplished, and remember looking all the way in the back of the auditorium and seeing my mother, dark glasses on glaring at me, like she hated and resented me. Then at 12 years old, it all came to head, I had come home from school to find my mother locked in the bathroom, threatening to kill herself. I was terrified, didn’t know how to handle this, I called my brothers girlfriend for help. She eventually came out of the bathroom and preceded to tell me she wanted to die. Again, she would deny this now if confronted with it. After my final day of 5th grade, again I came home so happy that elementary school was over and I was entering another phase of my life, and found my mother in a particularly “bad mood” she pinched the bottom of my arm and said, “you’re getting fat, we need to put you on a diet.”

    The stories about my mother could go on and on. I do have happy, funny memories of her, however they are few, and overshadowed by the miserableness she bestowed on my brothers and I. Her relationship with my brothers was also odd, she treated them more like her caretakers. Growing up with a depressed/narcissistic mother and alcoholic father made for a more than dysfunctional house. My brothers dealt with things by escaping through sports. I became the mini mother of the house, cooking and cleaning and taking care of the motherly duties.
    My dysfunctional mother has turned into a dysfunctional grandmother. She visits us usually once a year, (I’m 600 miles away), and it is usually a difficult visit. She still plays favorites and is often rude to my youngest and oldest child. She still glares at me with hatred and is rude and disrespectful to me. My brothers are angry with me for not being a better daughter to her. But I find it difficult to accept that “that’s just mom.” I feel the damage that she has created every day, and I have difficulty accepting that that’s just who she is.
    As a mother now, I hold parenting in the highest regard, I feel there is nothing more important than being a mother. I have surrounded myself with people who are genuine and loving, even if they aren’t my actual family. Sometimes I feel the best thing to do is put distance between yourself and those that reek havoc in your life, that was my mother, always has, always will.

  61. Anonymous says:

    It’s a weird feeling to truly believe that your mother is evil. But my mother has brought so much suffering and pain and uncertainty into my life that I feel she is.

    It’s not all of that, really. I could call that a bad attitude. But it is her complete indifference to any suffering or pain I have gone through that alarms me.

    Along with that indifference is a willingness to do little “murders”. I mean, she will do horrible things to malign me to others if I fail to please her. And that “murders” their compassion toward me big time.

    She has a sufficiently large number of children and siblings to create her own world in which she is a queen. She plays elaborate mind games to reward those who go along with her ways and punish those who do not.

    From day one she never liked me. Or my sister. So our suffering at her hands was practically a foregone conclusion.

    Most of my siblings gaslight, mock, invalidate and reject me for saying anything about what she has done.

    I believe she loves me. But I believe she loves herself far more.

    She has verbally abused me, hurt me, raged at me. She has attributed horrible character weaknesses to me and ridiculous motives for my actions at times.

    She has indoctrinated my family with ideas I am a self centered failure. Yet, she is totally self centered in every conversation, which inevitably revolves around her and what she thinks.

    When I was a child she allowed me and my sister to be mercilessly picked by a favored child in the family. She threw temper tantrums if we complained. Spitting mad, fists clenched, feet stomping, yelling, insulting, terrifying temper tantrums demanding that I shut up. She used to threaten to kill my sister if she didn’t shut up. But we didn’t shut up. We needed help. And she took that as a lifelong vendetta against us.

    I can’t even tell you who my mother really is. Just the persona she projects. She is either mad or unemotional and not mad. I’ve never seen her happy and giddy over anything.

    When my father died, she cried for a few minutes, then stopped. She never shed another tear. She did not like him much. She tore him down all the time behind his back.

    She punishes attempts to gain empathy or understanding. Shas never once said, “That must have been a difficult experience.” when I have shared my difficulties. She forbade me to talk about anything that bothers me. Or about family conflicts or conflicted feelings.

    I can only be happy-jolly-jokey pretending it’s all fine and she is so interesting. The greatest mom in the world.

    I suppose this is familiar to someone else out there too. But it is a crazy, crazy way to grow up. And not easy to get over.

  62. Sue says:

    My mostly-bad mother had me when she was almost my age (I am 19 years old, turning 20 this autumn). Some peple think it is a good thing, as the fact she is younger than parents of most people I know makes them believe she would understand me better… On one hand, my parents didn’t forbid me to have sleepovers when I was young, I didn’t have to lie when I wanted to attend a house party at a friend’s place. Furthermore, since I was 17, my mother has been okay with me smoking, letting me join her for a cigarette when my father was not home.
    On the other hand, I don’t really believe the fact she is younger would make her a better mother. At all. As bad as I feel saying this, I never thought having me at the age of 19 was very wise. Of course, this is bad of me to say! I am glad she gave life to me, that I got a chance to be in this world… and I am thankful for that. But I coouldn’t say I feel she was ready enough to start a family. Her whole life she has been depressed because of not having money. She had never thought about what would come in the future, what kind of job she would have… She just decided to escape from my grandparents, getting married at 19 and having a baby.
    I know I have absolutely no right to judge that, but watching her all the years depressed, angry, complaining, saying I was a “sponger” when I was 14 and I was “using everyone” when I asked for some little money I needed (as I never got pocket money) is not exactly something I would call a perfect childhood.
    The worst years of my life were probably when I was 14-15. I am not sure when exactly or how it started, but it was a period of unbearable terror coming from my parents. They came with these nonsensical rules that they wanted me to act due to..when I did something wrong (or they thought I did), they were furious and told me I was “breaking the rules”. When I was told I should come home at 21.00 and I came literally one minute later, they went crazy. Other times my mother would go slapping me or grabbing me with her hard long nails and shaking.
    I never did anything really bad, never came home drunk, never did drugs, never skipped school, never swore at my parents. Out of the blue, once my mother decided she would go to my school and look for me because she thought I was skipping school. For no reason… When my french teacher came to my class, took me to her office, telling me how bad of a daughter I was, to my surprise I saw my mother sitting by the table, crying, having a whole lot of tissues in front of her. She never told me what she really meant by doing that but since that my french teacher was looking at me like I was the worst person on the planet.
    I was getting more and more introvert.. I tried to spend as much as possible time with my friends, being with my parents was a hell on earth. I went home scared everyday, having stomachache, crying.. I cried all the time. At school, on my way home, at home. Actually I didn’t want to call it “home” as I never felt like it was there… I ended up locking myself at the toilet (as that was the only room that had a lock on the door), cutting myself. I was offered a visit at a psychologist, but although I knew I needed it, for some reason I never went there.
    My mother’s worst quality is that she is unbelievably choleric. She can start being hysteric, screaming, swearing, hitting things in a second. I could barely ever talk to her without any drama. I always loved my father for being an opposite. However, when my mother said something, he would be the last person to say something against it… What she said was sacred. So when she was yelling at me, he just said “yes darling, you are right”, so that he didn’t have to argue with her.
    During the last two years he has done some mistakes.. As I always thought he is “the right one”, “the poor man who is manipulated”, for a moment he brought me situation when I felt sorry for my mother. Anyway, what I noticed is that after all those years it seems like his personality, that I always loved, got kind of ruined with the impact of my mother’s acting. But that is another story…
    Another thing I hate about my mother is that she is kind of an opposite of a normal one – unclean, untidy, disgusting. As bad as it probably sounds, I have to say she really is disgusting. This is a quite frequent topic of our arguments, because I am a very neat kind of person and like to have things around clean. What more, she tells me how bad I am that I don’t clean up (after her) enough… which I totally hate.
    This spring I had huge problems with insomnia. I couldn’t sleep whole night, often fell asleep for one hour or not at all… for 10 days in a row. My mother, instead of trying to help me, was screaming that I was doing it on purpose and I was so stupid, I was going to get sme serious health problems,…etc. On the other hand, when I was on the edge of becoming crazy because of the lack of sleep, they didn’t mind to keep me awake by screaming at me… again. When I FINALLY fell asleep one evening, my father pulled me out of the bed and sent me out with the dog. I was so desperate I couldn’t do anything else than cry. I went to my brother’s room, he just hugged me. When my father saw I was in my brother’s room crying, he opened the door so hard he hit me with it. He didn’t even say sorry. I had a bruise for about 14 days. After that night when they didn’t let me sleep, I decided to go to my grandparents for a couple days. They welcomed me, they were great… I started t sleep as normal almost immediately and everything got better with me. However, my mother was calling me and writing me every day and after mre than a week I gt back to my parents. I regretted it the same day. I got antidepresives from my g.p., I took it for a week and then stpped, as it made me feel even more tired during the days, but my sleeping prblems finally disappeared.
    Since I was 14 I have been waiting and looking forward to getting away from my parents’ place. Hopefully, this summer I will finally manage as I just graduated from highschool and I am looking for a job in a different country, starting a new life. Wish me luck.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      “I know I have absolutely no right to judge that …”

      You have every right to judge her; making judgments is not the same thing as being harsh and judgmental. I agree with you that she showed poor judgment herself, and little foresight, in marrying so young and getting pregnant so soon. I wish you all the luck in your coming freedom from her tyranny.

  63. Des says:

    At the age of 53, I have recently come to the jaw-dropping realization I have a narcissistic mother. I was the eldest daughter, raised in poverty, who cared for four younger siblings. Because of my mother’s poor health (she was asthmatic), I believed she did the best she could and needed all the help she could get from the rest of the family. But now the light bulb has gone on in my head (thanks to blogs and articles by professionals like Dr. Burgo and comments by grown-up children of narcissists). I see now I was fitted to carry burdens far too heavy for my nine-year-old shoulders, that lasted until the day I was told (as a freshman in college), “Don’t come home from college for the summer. You are on your own now.” I always thought I was a perceptive individual who dealt well with a difficult childhood, but this all came crashing down when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in May of this year. Luckily the tumor is not cancerous, but it is fairly large and will take a complex surgery to remove it and I will lose hearing in one ear. I had been experiencing severe facial pain, which led me to the doctor. Anyway, after I had told my mother via a phone call (she is an RV-traveler, constantly on the road with my step-father), I had begun letting my siblings know about my condition. During a phone call to one brother, I experienced a severe spasm in my face which led me to cut the call short, sobbing with tears of pain. I later told my mother about this incident, and she interjected, “Good!!” I asked her, what on earth do you mean by that? She told me that he needed to realize how much he’s missed by not being more in touch. She considers him a “bad” son, because he doesn’t answer her phone calls and doesn’t exchange Christmas gifts with her. Why was I so blind to this? I see now that many choices in my life were made in order to take care of the needs of others, including a chronically ill husband who died four years ago. Now I am in the position to ask others to help and it is very difficult for me, but I am learning… I have several friends who have extended their hands out to me and I need to learn to take hold of them without trying to hoist myself up on my own!

  64. Louise says:

    I have always adored my mother and think she is an amazing person and believe that she must of been a good mother for me to feel and think that of her. As a daughter and a mother to a three year old daughter I try to remember that a mothers job is the hardest in the world. Women give up so much of themselves to give to their children, physically, emotionally, financially. A women can lose her own sense of self by a child’s constant needs and demands. I think a lot of bad mothering is attached to shame. Society imposes on women very narrow and specific ideals on what a mother should be. Open a magazine, switch on the tv, the message is that a mother is a vision of perfect sacrifice, full of joy and pride at the success and whole ness of her children, that is a. Of course this is not real, this is a fabrication and makes everybody feel like a loser.
    My story is that of having a emotional/bad mother, a kind gentle but ineffective father who ran away to work every day and subsequently is free of blame. My mother decided to leave me in the care of my father and his new wife when I was 7 as she had labelled herself a bad mother and wanted a career after looking after children and keeping house for 18 years and thought I would be better off. Of course I wasn’t, my dad was at work and my stepmother was another bad mother. When I did see my mother during school holidays my heart was ripped out and broken again when I had to return back to my father. Why why why did she not see this, that I needed to be with her.
    My father decided to return me to my mother at 11 the story being that, he could not face life with me as a teenager, I was angry and had the energy as a child to act it out.
    On being returned to my mother, she had met a man who was to become my step father. My mother had made another bad choice for her children in this man. I spent the rest of my teen years being bullied by this man, physically, emotionally and sexually. My mother loved her work, she was good at it, it was her escape.
    Through this trauma I am a shell of the energetic, feisty, intelligent, brave and loving, compassionate little girl I began as and I know that is what I was because I see it in my daughter. A mothers job is the hardest in the world.

    A lot of posts say hoe

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      There’s a lot of contradictions in what you write, and a lot of denial and justification in your attitude toward your mother beginning with your very first sentence. In my profession, we often say that the worse the mother, the more you need to idealize her to escape the awful truth.

  65. Laura says:

    As I meander through your posts, I continue to find so much that is of interest; some that resonates and some that raises new questions for me. Thank you again for the work that you put into this. The statement that you have made about idealisation in response to a comment on this post really framed some thoughts for me.

    I have a mostly-bad mother. From the day that I was born, I was the focus of her woe. If I did not exist, she would have had a much better life; been richer; been more loved . Or so she said. To the world at large, she presented “us” and “me” as perfect although she could rarely hide the coldness behind her words. In our private world – she displayed her existential pain in many self and me-destructive ways.

    A theme of my therapy has been my search to look for the “good” memories, the bits that indicate that it was not all trauma, fear, chaos and confusion; that there was a “beautiful” mother, vulnerable and sweet and kind and a little bit lost. The idealised mother perhaps. I too can remember her great cooking and her lovely coffee and had difficulty disconnecting these “good” memories from the insistent “bad” memories.

    I have been estranged from my mother for nearly 16 years. She lives in a town a few hours away from me. A couple of years ago I had to go to that town to visit a friend in hospital. I “joked” with my therapist at what poor luck it would be for me to bump into her or my ex-partner.

    Needless to say, she found me. The visceral pain of connection was astonishing. I subsequently found myself in her house. She, me and her husband in shock.

    The things I thought:

    “She still makes great coffee”
    “She still has great taste in shoes”
    “She still has lousy taste in leather sofas”

    “Oh my god, she is completely normal. I must be mad. I must be such a source of sadness to her. The mad daughter who has made up a traumatic past of such enormous fantasty that, bar locking her up, it was better to let her go.”

    She then said something in a tone of voice that ossified my internal organs. I left immediately. I did not look back until I reached my home.

    When I regained the power of speech, I started to explore this event with my therapist. It took a while, but it struck me that the idea that I was mad might have been something that I needed to believe. That by being the mad one, I could deny the reality of the pain of my past experiences and that I could have the “good” mother, the idealised version.

    I had ended my relationship with my “mother” 16 years earlier; by letter. I believe that I only began accept that she really was my mother after experiencing the physical pain of connection and departure that day. In truth, she was, and is, my mostly-bad-mother. Who makes great coffee and to whom I owe my extensive shoe collection.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      “the idea that I was mad might have been something that I needed to believe. That by being the mad one, I could deny the reality of the pain of my past experiences and that I could have the “good” mother, the idealised version.”

      You’re a wonderful writer, by the way. So nicely put.

      The bit I quoted here seems to me to be the heart of the matter for many of us. We often attack ourselves rather than face the true horror of being dependent upon someone who is hurtful, unreliable, etc. We make ourselves bad in order to preserve the fiction of a good mother.

  66. Annie says:

    Although my mother was formally diagnosed with borderline pd on two different occasions, by two different therapists, I believe she also had other issues as well: narcissistic traits, obsessive-compulsive pd traits, and even some psychopathic traits. The borderline features she expressed frequently and intensely were “extreme, inappropriate rage/constant irritability” and “transient paranoid ideation and dissociative episodes due to stress”, except that instead of being “transient” my mother’s paranoid beliefs were fixed /permanent. (Mother had all the bpd diagnostic traits except for suicidal ideation/self-harming behaviors, and she was very high-functioning in public.)

    I believe that mother did sometimes dissociate or break with reality during her rage-tantrums. Her pupils would dilate to the max, making her eyes look like a shark’s eyes, and after a rage episode, sometimes she would act all chipper and perky, like nothing traumatizing had just happened. Her rage-tantrums often included inflicting physical violence on us kids.

    Based on my mother’s own words, on family stories, and from reading my mother’s therapy journal after her death, I believe that mother decided (due to narcissism, or perhaps due to post-partum psychosis) that her first-born child (me) hated her and rejected her as a mother: so mother “painted me black” from birth. She wrote in her therapy journal (and told me to my face) that she found me “cold and unloving” and that she never did even like me. My own speculation is that she also resented having to care for me.

    Close to my first birthday, mother began cutting back on my liquid intake in an effort to reduce the frequency and disgusting nature of diaper changes. This resulted in emergency surgery for me; I busted a gut (strangulated inguinal hernia) trying to pass hardened, impacted stool. I believe the aftermath was to make my mother resent and dislike me even more; although I don’t remember the hospitalizations, I do recall as a child that any time I became ill or injured, I’d be screamed at and blamed or ignored instead of comforted. I learned very early on to avoid telling my mother if I was feeling sick or if I’d hurt myself, unless it was unavoidable (if I needed stitches, was vomiting, etc.)

    Both my younger Sister and I suffered pretty severe emotional damage from having been raised by a scary, angry, unpredictably violent mother who took care of our physical needs but shattered our sense of trust and crippled our sense of self-worth.

    We both still have some ptsd symptoms, and neither of us have ever sustained a long-term adult relationship. I am more socially avoidant than my younger Sister, and I eventually chose to go totally No Contact with our mother. Sister still has blocks of amnesia RE her childhood years. Sister remained in limited contact with our mother until mother passed away, but Sister had decided to go into therapy, which helped her understand that it was OK for Sister to emotionally detach from our mother.

    So, I find it hopeful and cheering whenever I come across blogs or websites intended to both educate the public about the truly serious nature of personality disorders, particularly in relation to parenting, and to provide group emotional support to the adult children of mentally ill/personality-disordered parents.

  67. Dolma Beck says:

    Hi Dr Burgo.. Saturday nite. Feeling low.
    Well, Early Sunday morning now, here in Australia
    Decided to check your site, see if any new posts up
    Returned to narcissistic mothers/ went on to this one.
    Somehow, reading the words here, most seemingly coming from
    Deep places of honestly( ESP liked that you shared the spaghetti Bol
    Sauce recipe)… It really does help, to be part of this type of sharing.
    Thanks.

  68. juli says:

    Your mother sounds a lot like my mother even down to her taste in music. My mom had a fun and adventurous side too. The bad parts also sound very similar. Thanks for sharing.

  69. still her daughter says:

    I know this is an old article but I HAD to write a comment.

    I honestly cannot believe how similar your story of your childhood is to mine (as far as the memories of mom go). Literally, down to fact that I begged my own mother for the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar and when she relented she also made me feel 2 inches tall about it. I felt so horrid that I insisted she return it (which made her even more angry)

    I searched for an article today because even though I’m 42 years old and a couple of years ago thought I had come to terms with her choosing everything over my natural brother and I, she still hurts me to the bone. She did it again this week when I found out she is hosting a secret dinner for her husband and his children but leaving out not only myself and my natural brother but also my grandfather, whom she had at first invited. He is very lonely and was looking so so forward to it. However today was to be the day and she isn’t answering her phone – she’s pretending not to be at home. I can deal with her leaving me out (although it hurts that the entire family conspired to keep it from me) but her pulling the rug out from under my grandfather is too much pain. I can feel the lump in my throat and rage in my gut.

    Anyway your experience so mirrors mine it is uncanny and I wanted to reach out. I needed to tell this story today. Right now. Thank you for providing a safe place. I hope all of us find peace in our hearts to deal with our mostly bad mothers.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I’m glad to hear from you, although sorry you had a mother like mine. The way she has enlisted the family to conspire against you is typical of the way narcissistic mothers make alliances and split families. Your poor grandfather!

    • Barbara Dothan Alabama says:

      My mother was brilliant when it came to shutting me out of all family functions, and it always hurt so much when I would find out they had a get together but I was never invited, or she would tell my dad that she had called and left me a message but I never returned the call. I have called ID, answering machine , she never called and would just simmer with her anger that I challenged her version of it. Needless to say I was shut out my whole lifetime, there were never birthday parties, attending any school or social event, she would ignore, play it down , or just plain ruin every important thing in my life. I always felt her jealousy towards my dad and I, do you know how hard it was to not show affection for a dad that you loved because I knew I would pay for it.I have just recently realized my dad let her get away with this treatment of me, but not to my brothers, We are NC now and forever will be.

  70. Sue says:

    I just recently started analyzing my feelings about my mostly-bad mother. I grew up with my mother, my brother, and her boyfriend, who was a functional alcoholic and an extreme violent person towards us. For most of my life, I saw my mother as a victim of domestic abuse (and she definitely was). I always saw both of us as victims however, now I can finally see that although my mother was a victim of domestic abuse I was a victim of my step-father and my mother. When I was 17, I told my mom that her boyfriend was abusing me, she immediately kicked him out of our house, which made me feel so protected by her. In that same year, I moved away from the country. During that year, my mother asked me many times if I was sure that the abuse was real and I said many times that yes, the abuse was real and it had been happening for many years. When I came back my brother told me that she allowed her boyfriend to move back into the house for some months while I was away. She actually was capable to sleep with the man who was abusing her daughter. That was the moment that triggered me to analyze my entire childhood with her.

    The more I think about it the more I see how my mother was never really there for me or my brother. During our childhood, she constantly used us. She used to ask me to ask my step-father to not go drinking and when he did, I felt that it was my fault that he was drunk all the time. When my brother was 15, our step-father hit him badly, my mother put him out of the house (although continued dating him) for a couple of months but soon he was back. When my brother confronted her about it, she said that she saw my brother and her boyfriend talking friendly, so she saw no point in keeping him out of the house. This is just one of the many instances in which my mother justified her bad-motherly behavior based on what we did or said. I love how she is capable of never taking responsibility for her actions and still blame us for her own behavior.

    Besides choosing her boyfriend over us my mother is also an specialist in choosing right about any thing over us. My mother has never been a part of my life. When I got accepted into college her exact words were: ok. When I graduated from college she actually not only did not come for graduation but actually forgot to call me ( to this day I have not got a congratulations from her). During my wedding, she refuse to come because she had to work and she does not like big parties. She end up coming to my wedding, when a friend called her a bad mother for not being there for me. At the wedding, she was incapable of smiling and I could feel how excited she was to just go home.

    Sometimes I just listen to my husband’s wonderful stories about his childhood how they did this trip to zoo, etc and it is so hard to realize I have none. I spend most of my young years depressed, every time I tried to connect with my mother it was a disaster, she is completely incapable of loving me more than herself or whatever or whoever she is interested at the time. Today, when I try to talk to her about the abuse she just cries like a child until I give up in talking her. I am not sure if that is one of her tactics in not confronting her mostly-bad mother behavior or that even my abuse (which is something I am still struggling with today and that sometimes I just need to talk about it) is not an important enough subject for her to be interested in talking to me. Is she that incapable of caring for me?
    Thank you for listening.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Yes, she is that incapable of caring for you. It sounds as if her own narcissistic preoccupation leaves her with no room to empathize with anyone else. Only her own feelings matter.

  71. blueskyhi says:

    I was the little girl who used to look at Mum and be screaming on the inside to be loved, hugged and wanted, it never happened. Now at age 42, having first suicide attempt at 12, paid to have sex with a horrendous male from 12-16, heroin addiction at 16, drug rehab at 20 (which I lied the whole way through as I had a very middle-class “normal background” so felt unworthy of therapy, and now amazingly happily married with 2 boys and a profession in social work, I still wish my mother would hug me, just once.
    I have not one happy memory of my mother, no matter how hard I search, nor my sister, and I’ve finally started to engage in psychotherapy and rewrite my internal self and deal with utter despair of shame that I feel chewing at me every single solitary day. I am grateful that I choose to leave in NZ as I know I would never have overcome my addicition or self-hatred if I stayed in the same country as my family. I not sure how, why or by whom but when I left NZ I found a stonger, happier me and soon, through therapy, that shame will no longer be shame but a better understanding of self.

  72. Struggling says:

    So interesting that two years later the comments to this post are still going strong. My sister forwarded this to me because I struggle with feelings of strong dislike and resentment toward my mother. She is nearly 88, has macular degeneration, still lives alone by choice but is, understandably to some extent, incredibly needy. I call her a black hole of need. I live nearby in the same town, as does my brother. My sister is about 5 hours away. I’m fortunate to have strong support from my siblings but the majority of responsibility has fallen on my shoulders and, try though I might, I don’t undertake it gladly. I suppose I love my mother but I don’t like her at all.

    Growing up, we were very well fed and clothed and went on great vacations and didn’t want for anything. But because of her childhood (youngest of 5, father left the family for another woman when she was 11, mother had a nervous breakdown then died of cancer a few years later, no support from her siblings) she was terribly insecure. I can’t recall ever not knowing all these details of her childhood – the message was always not to upset mom because she’d already suffered so much. Consequently, we could never go to her with any of our own problems. It never would have occurred to me to do so. My dad was great and I have many happy memories of him teaching us to sail, reading stories to us, being silly to make us laugh, but he had a seizure disorder, pretty well controlled, that created other issues.

    So, back to my mom. She wasn’t an alcoholic, she didn’t beat us, she was just incapable of dealing with problems. “I try so hard”, she would wail. She could be petty and cruel about my “over sensitivity” or my sister’s weight but it wasn’t the horror show others have described in these posts. I can come up with some happy memories of holidays and cooking and playing scrabble on vacations but when I try to hold onto them, they are overwhelmed by feelings of anger and resentment. And I find myself dreading the time I have to spend with her and feeling guilty about it at the same time. As she reminds me, “I’d walk over hot coals for my mother.” The clear implication is that I should also do so and do so gladly. But I just can’t.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Poignant story. Your mother sounds even more fragile than mine was, but I relate to the feeling that Mom couldn’t handle much and you had to take care of her. It’s surprising how often I hear about these kind of role-reversals from my clients.

  73. Olivia says:

    Thank you for your post-
    I am a mother seeking answers for myself. I had a very traumatizing childhood and suffered from extreme sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. I got pregnant when I was 16 with my oldest daughter, and now have four children. My worst fear has come true– that my children feel unwanted and unloved by me. I cannot express the heart wrenching pain that I feel in the pit of my stomach, and in my chest from knowing that they feel this way. I often felt that way as a child. I tried to do everything better than what my parents did–I read a lot of books, I made sure that they always had clothes on their backs that fit them and were clean, that they never went hungry, that the electricity never got cut off. I tuck them in at night, make sure to have family dinners, have family days, and listen to their stories of their lives. Still, they have this perception of me. I finally realized that the love language that I speak is much different than the love language that they speak. I have been loving them this whole time in a way that I wish I was loved as a child, completely neglecting loving them in a way that they understood. Does this mean that I don’t love them??? Absolutely NOT!!! I love them with every fabric of my being, I tell them, I hug them, I kiss them— but, my time is limited. Because I have to work so hard to make sure that their physical needs are provided for, there isn’t much time left to nurture. I also am somewhat socially awkward, and don’t express my emotions very well although I feel them very deeply. I am very self-aware, and know that my personality type (INTJ) makes it difficult for me to express my feelings in a way that others understand. Does this mean that I don’t feel it or intend it? NO! I absolutely do, but how to make them understand is the question. I hear them telling me that they feel like I push them aside, and I alter my course of action to try and meet their needs of me—but I never quite get it right. Being a mother is the most difficult job that anyone can have, and with all of my own baggage to sort through, it makes my path a little less clear. I wish that I could be everything that they need in a mother, and I spend nights alone, while they are all tucked in bed crying over why I just can’t seem to figure it out. Intention doesn’t always equal action, and it also doesn’t justify perception. I suppose children want to view their mothers as perfect beings full of love, beauty, grace, warmth, and acceptance. Unfortunately, most mothers fall short of perfection. Most mothers wish they could attain it, and never do because it is impossible. Most mothers hope that when their children grow up, that they will realize that mothers are imperfect just like everyone else. Mothers hope that their children will forgive their shortcomings, and maybe even learn from them. Most mothers hope, from their core, that their children will reciprocate the love that they feel toward their children even if they didn’t do a very good job of communicating it. After all, if a mother truly didn’t love their children, they wouldn’t care for them at all.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      All you can do is continue trying to do your best while listening carefully to their complaints. I’m not sure of the ages of your children, but it’s also fairly common for adolescents to go through a period of criticizing and rejecting their parents as part of separation, then finding a more balanced view of their faults and virtues in later life.

  74. Sara says:

    My mother hated me. My father, a paediatrician did nothing to stop her abuse. She made me wear clothes size 16 when I was size 4. She hated me, loathed me was revolted by the sight of my face and she never not for one minute let me forget it. My childhood was a concentration camp. I was raised to be her slave, I was not allowed to have an opinion, if I was ill they told me they didnt want any hospital tests because they didnt want to know if I had health issues.

    Pain. It still haunts me.

    Despite the past I married a wonderful man who has supported me. He has alot of anger and outrage towards my parents, my parents hate him. My mother especially, she is my fathers public face and so he supports her in all her lies and abuse of me. I am angry at him, for bejng in the professin he is in to stand at her side and not only let her scream at me but agree and blame me.
    I remember climbing the stairs one day desperately seeking a moment alone with him, I pleaded with him to allow me to speak to him alone about my pain, about how I felt and the way I was being treated. He turned his face away from me as if I was something filthy and said if I wanted to speak to him about something it would be in front of my mother and he woukdnt speak to me alone.
    I have alot in my life. It took me along time to accept that I am actually quite an attractive you g woman and my mother was threatened by me.
    Yesterday she called, she had some ‘wonderful news’ she had booked tickets and was coming to stay at my house for a few weeks and she was bringing her own evil sadistic narcassist mother to stay as well. We were to have such a nice time and she would sleep in my sons bed. I called her back and calmly explained that she should have consulted me first about our availability. Suddenly her story was entirely different, she wasnt coming to stay with me at all but to look after her ill mother whom she would be staying in to cook and clean for her. She was livid.
    She tried to guilt me but I held fast. My husband recorded the conversation.
    Noone believes me when I speak the truth about my parents, my mother has a very manipulative charm and she lives to publicise herself and my father. She woukd attend charities when I was younger while I would be at home preparing the hubdred pastries she had ‘donated’ and taken the credit for. On the surface she is always finding people who need rescuing and publicising her kindness. People think my parents are super pious. They dont know the truth. It almost destroys me.
    My sister who I protected for many years has got married and her husband chooses to believe my parents over her about me being a disturbed person. Because it is more socially acceptable to side with my parents she has thrown away the sacrifices I made for her and whenever my mother makes up a story about me she believes it and avoids me as though I am a leper.
    My apologies for such a long post, I’m feeling restless tonight because my husband is frustrated at my not being able to stop feeling the pain. It comes back when she throws these stunts.
    Mother never found my sister a threat, my sister never was anbitious whereas I have always been the only one of my mothers kids who pushed to di the best I could and always achieved entirely on my own efforts with her ridiculing me the whole time. She has a golden chikd in my brother who is manipulative and deceitful.

    Your gentle writing style has encouraged me to post. Again, apologies for the short novel!

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Sara, if you’ve read some of the other comments to this post, you’ll see you’re not alone. I will give you the same advice I’ve given to other people with mothers such as yours: cut them loose. Break off relations. You get absolutely NOTHING from this woman but pain. No love, no encouragement, no support. There is no reason to maintain contact with her.

      My heart goes out to you.

    • SKG says:

      I believe you. I feel the same way. My youngest brother is an epic failure, but the golden child. I am the only professional, self supporting child of 4. I feel you!!!

  75. Irina says:

    Yes, I have a mostly bad mother. I won’t go into details, but I found I could hold onto the good things, and even learn a thing or two from them, after I’ve cut all ties with her. No, we are not on speaking terms, and my life changed for the better since this happened.

    I have recently became a mother myself, so I started to remember the bad things again, but they don’t overshadow the good things anymore.

  76. Anne says:

    Joe,
    As I mentioned before, I am really enjoying your website. I guess I had a mostly bad mother. And father, too, for that matter. I feel really conflicted about writing that because it’s something I would’ve thought years ago, and feel that I’ve grown past somewhat and am continuing to grow past (I approach my 50th year; my parents at 72 and 73 are alive, married to each other and in good health. According to most people’s opinions, including my own, they are good-to-excellent grandparents, although not always as consistent as I would have them be. But they don’t owe anyone anything. Still, consistency is nice). Like you, Joe, I had a middle class upbringing, everything I needed, emphasis on getting a quality education. They didn’t buy us cars lol, but other than that, my two younger siblings and I did very well, according to outside reports. They are Ph.D. in the hard sciences, I have a M.S. and am a psychologist. It would be foolish and false to pretend that I didn’t find my field through attempting to alleviate my own suffering to a large degree, and to an almost as large degree, merely to survive. I, too, left home (and college) at a young age, convinced that I could do better to help myself on my own than to continue to live under my parents’ dominion. They really believed in firm management of their children, and as the oldest, I believe I received the firmest hand. At 19 I could no longer ignore my symptoms of depression and anxiety, which had been developing since childhood but were beginning to become unmanageable, particularly when I had to endure the stress that was at-home life (my parents love each other very much, but their marriage was–and still is–volatile. I have no idea how they manage it is not how I would want to live. But as long as I don’t have to live with them I am fine). The competetive university I was attending made being away from them a different kind of hell, so in order to find “safety,” I used my people-pleasing skills (and typing, and intellect) and found myself a job as a secretary.

    One reason I left was that since my symptoms of anxiety and depression were beginning to interfere with my functioning, I was afraid I was about to be forced to try psychiatric medication. I knew that my symptoms were worse in the stress of living at home, but my parents were virtually insisting that I demonstrate I was “cured” before they would let me have even reasonable measures of independence for a 19-year-old. So I had to leave. And I functioned. And our relationship hobbled on… I never wanted to cut them out. It was very bumpy until I was 38, however (having survived a pregnancy-out-of-wedlock, hard on devout Catholics, although perhaps even harder on people who cared about having a perfect looking family to others; my precipitous and coerced marriage, divorce 5 years later, a horrific custody battle that included my parents’ siding with my ex-husband and his Anti-social PD wife [they were very angry with me, and their anger seemed to prevent them from seeing reason]) at which point I had been in and out of therapy for years but not found it helpful insofar as mitigating my physical symptoms, still wouldn’t try meds, but had been doing Network Spinal Analysis (www.donaldepstein.com) for about 7 years at that point, and become an initiate and practitioner of Transcendental Meditation six months prior. I chose TM because the brain research involving anxiety and depression impressed me. It was the right move.

    We’ve had very little active conflict since then, my parents and I, and even did a stint of me and my young daughter living with them for a summer at their business, geographically helpful for a summer job I had (it was initially going to be full-time, but we found a way to make it 5 days out of 7, and that definitely suited everyone better). They even decided to help me financially (during grad school, and now paying down my student loans, none of which I felt owed, although I think I’ve been a good daughter so I can’t say I’m undeserving), which came as an enormous surprise. What has intrigued me is that I was told by my teacher upon learning TM that the technique, when practiced regularly, will have long-term healing effects on one’s family, with those closest in blood and relationship reaping the most benefit, and the ripples moving outword throughout the extended family. I have found this to be true. Further, Donald Epstein now makes the same claim about the healing work he teaches/facilitates. Again, it feels that it must be so. It is very joyful. Not that everything and everyone is perfect and transformed–far from it. But I sought to improve only my own life and experience, thinking that if I could do so people might find me pleasanter to be around. I still struggle. Now more professionally than with family, but I suspect that I am working if not in the wrong field, then in the wrong facility. But no matter. Life has been a steady course of improvement. Pain, certainly, and two-steps-forward-one-step-back most of the time although not in such a predictable way (which would’ve been nice!), but improvement. Greater joy. Greater love. Greater peace and calm. Reduced fear, reduced loneliness, fewer surprising misunderstandings.

    I don’t know where I’m going with this except to say that there were times I felt it was hopeless, and that the pain itself would overtake me, that I had little to draw on for strength (I grieve lack of memories of approving parents… they loved me I knew, but I so seldom recall them being approving, they believed in course-correction and punishment. I know even the neighbors talked at times that they were punitive). But I don’t feel that way as much anymore. In fact, so much less, that I wonder if I’m not waking into a new existence. I hope so, it feels good. Regardless of what happens, I will continue with what I do… chop wood, carry water. And love whom I can. :-)

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      The account of your journey is inspirational and moving to me, since it so closely resembles my own. It’s definitely two-steps-forward, one-step-back for most of us, and there are no final solutions, of course, but it does get better. Chop wood, carry water — I like that. So elemental, so down to earth. Thanks!

  77. Daria says:

    I am trying to think of good points about my mother, few and far between though they may be. She taught me to speak and write early (though this was her “project”and she wanted to be congratulated for having raised a “genius” and gain points with a hitherto unfriendly MIL). I was also provided with a lot of creative materials (copying what someone else did creatively was fine but my coming out with my own ideas horrified her) and she had a wicked sense of humour(good poet but used it to taunt me). She also cared about “healthy eating” (but because she was anorexic and didn’t understand about sound nutrition and a balanced diet I had health problems growing up. Despite the fact that she seems able to function on thin air, I can’t, and need some meat in my diet).
    When I was 5 my mother and I had an argument about something small, I had done a drawing in a workbook on which I had spent quite some time. She picked the book up by that same page and threw it out of the window. The drawing was ripped in half. She tried to console me by saying “oh you can do another one” but that was it. I was livid and when you are so small and only about 4 feet tall…I wanted to kill her and I never liked or trusted her again after that. She was very depressed at the time and spent a lot of time in bed. I think my parents, though we lived in a huge mansion and had sports cars in the drive, were on the verge of bankruptcy. At any rate I always wondered why she was so miserable and cross. I always knew there was something wrong and yet my mother never got treatment nor even sought to get out of her miserable marriage because she liked keeping up appearances too much.

    I’ve noticed after writing most of these “good points” down that there is a”but” attached My mother said her aim in having me was to have one child only and to do “the best job” possible . In later years she complained bitterly about having had just one child and all the associated so-called “problems” that went along with it, whilst actually even mothering one child was beyond her and during my teenage years she only did the laundry infrequently, rarely cooked and was either in bed or walking the dog most of the day. The truth is she never wanted kids but didn’t know what else to do with herself and said it was “expected of her”. My dad didn’t really want kids either and although he has been friendlier in recent years I still get odd glimpses of hostility and the feeling that it is all a bit too much of a bother at times. I don’t think he is very nice to his partner, he can be very lovely and kind but has a streak in him that treats his nearest and dearest like animals, and my mother is not much better from that point of view. I am glad I no longer live with them but I think they deserved each other as they were so much alike. Both my schools were concerned about the way in which their treatment of me was affecting my behaviour and work. But there, it is such a long time ago now and one helpful method of dealing with these people is not to focus on the behaviour in and of itself but the reasons they have for doing what they do.

    These people are generally deeply unhappy, fraught with guilt and massively insecure. The reason they don’t seem guilty for their actions is because they’ve disowned their guilt and palmed it all off onto you, so you get passed this huge parcel of guilt and don’t know why, and moreover don’t know what to do with it. You feel that you “ought” to be ”
    feeling guilty” about something, but at the same time you oughtn’t, and that is what creates the charged atmosphere. They probably got guilt from somewhere else as well, passed down to them. It is a lame tactic, this guilting business. Don’t fall for it. Loads of people do it all the time and the best counter-tactic is to have no time for them, or it.

    If you can get yourself into a position of genuinely loving yourself then you will not fall for it. All you need to do is to tell them (not directly, but in conversation) what you will and will not put up with. I had to do this recently and found the way my dad handled it really quite interesting. He has been very evasive and I think this is due to guilt, he is nice to my face but who knows what goes on behind my back – to be frank I couldn’t care less but I think he is bothered that I do not consider people “friends” if they then cut me down when I am not there, and I suspect he has been doing a bit of that himself. He lost his father at 14 so has always had a hard shell around himself, his own father had been a very demonstrative man but he himself always bought into the tough guy idea that boys didn’t cry.

    My mother was bombed out in Germany as a child and underwent a cheerless upbringing. Both she and my aunt have problems with narcissism as girls were viewed as less than boys in her family and every aspect of their life was tightly controlled. The two of them are best frenemies and have always been in competition with each other through their daughters (my cousin is an only child). They are 2 women in their 70s behaving like they are 7 but frankly I just leave them to get on with it. I don’t get involved and don’t listen to bitching and have stated as much.
    You will never ever be able to do anything about narcissists, ever ever ever, but you can make life a lot more positive by focusing on you. Again, this comes from a secure sense of self. If people try to have a go at you with some peculiar comment or whatever, you can just brush it
    off as though it had been a fly, and you don’t have to lie either, that’s the beauty of it. But you have to really mean every word you say and not be bothered about what other people think!! This is the difference between genuine self confidence and narcissism. Someone who is self confident will be so regardless of how much money they have. A narcissist is forever worrying about what the neighbours think.

  78. jr says:

    Hello, my mother was a very severe borderline personality disorder (according to a highly trained professional therapist) woman who had a 2-3 year psychotic break when I was in college and still living at home. She never sought any help or treatment. She was extremely abusive and sadistic with me at that time. Unfortunately, the most I can hope for is some semblance of a superficial and limited relationship, and to continue to work on having compassion on her as a very very broken person, and working through the grief of never having had a mother in any but the biological sense. There will never be love or trust between us, and I think it is unreasonable to expect otherwise. I disagree with this notion that everyone HAS to love their mothers.

  79. Barbara says:

    Re “I believe there’s almost always some small oasis of goodness around which memories cluster.” I have no good memories of my mother, and this seems a bit unsettling / alarming, because pretty much anyone you meet is a mix of mostly-good-and-some-bad qualities, and I can remember nice memories with anyone else. Pick anyone at random — I can probably easily think of a nice memory or some good times, even with someone who wasn’t my favorite person. But I can’t with my mother. Like I said: unsettling. I don’t believe anyone is completely “bad” but the two nicest things I can think of to say about my mother are “She didn’t actually kill me,” and “She didn’t intend to be so harmful — right?”

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Barbara, I’m so sorry to hear this, and I believe you. I have a client who can’t remember a single good thing about her mother. It’s a miracle my client (and you?) survived.

      • Barbara says:

        Thanks, Joe — it’s good to be believed (especially such an extreme statement as that). I’m sorry your client had a similar experience. I’ve enjoyed reading all over your site.

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