The Narcissistic Mother Revisited

Angry MotherI’ve written about narcissistic mothers in two earlier posts, one about my own (mostly bad) mother, and another that differentiates healthy parental pride from narcissistic over-involvement. In particular, I’ve talked about the struggle to find the goodness in mothers who largely failed their children. I focus on this issue not only because it comes up in therapy but because it personally matters to me; I feel I’ve made peace with the memory of my father but have continued to hold a grudge, so to speak, against my mother. Lately, I’ve felt the grudge begin to ease its hold on me. To my surprise, I’ve found myself feeling more compassionate about what I imagine to have been her struggles.

I have a vivid memory from the time when I was in fourth grade. My mother was driving my best friend Chuck and me to the movies, I believe; as we traveled along Manchester Boulevard in Westchester (a suburb of Los Angeles), Chuck was reading storefront signs and billboards aloud, a way to pass the time. After he’d gone on for a couple of minutes, my mother told him, with barely concealed rage, “Yes, Chuck — we know you can read.” A simple moment that has stayed with me for years. My mother was always going off that way, or hitting you with the blunt force of her sarcasm. Recently, I had an experience that gave me a deeper, more sympathetic grasp of what made her behave that way.

For the last couple of months, I’ve been writing a novella based on the Cinderella fairy tale, about how a young woman would in reality turn out (psychologically and emotionally) if she’d grown up in a family where everyone hated and oppressed her. I’m passionate about this story and have been fairly consumed by the process of writing it. Getting up too early, working too many hours … again. The result is that I’ve been feeling tired and run down. Anyway, I was driving cross-town with a friend, who happened to be reading and commenting on billboards along the freeway. He’s in advertising, so he wasn’t simply reading to pass the time, as my friend Chuck had done. After he’d read about three, I felt the urge to snap at him: “Yes, Michael, I know you can read.” There’s a true moment of horror, to find that your angry, sarcastic mother who died many years ago is actually alive and well inside of you!

On the other hand, it made me feel sorry for her. That snappish urge of mine arose because I was too tired, my emotional resources thin. Mom must have felt at the end of her rope a lot of the time. Another point in common: my recent writing drive has some anger behind it: “real life” continues to make demands upon my time, taking precedence over the writing of “mere” fiction which doesn’t help support my family or fulfill any of my obligations to other people. I know my mother felt angry about her own life. I don’t know what unfulfilled dreams consumed her, but I felt their presence throughout my life, the ongoing unresolved resentment about what she didn’t have, would never have. I feel sorry for her. At least I’ve finished my Cinderella story and will see it published. In the end, I know I’ll get what I want.

The grudge has also eased up because I’ve begun to see it as defensive in nature. Don’t get me wrong — my mother was largely a disaster on the parenting front. But it’s easier to write her off completely than to remember the good parts, to know there must have been moments when she found me adorable, when she returned the joyful smile baby Joe gave to her … and then “dropped” me. This, I believe, is one of the most toxic effects of narcissistic mothering — for the infant to feel connection and then to be forgotten when the mother’s self-absorption takes her away. In my work with a client of long-standing, I’ve recently begun referring to this as the “intermittent mother.” It’s easier to hate a mother like that than to remember the rare oasis of love and beauty within a vast emotional desert.

I remember an old photo of my mother, taken not long after she and my father married. She’s sitting on a blanket at a picnic, smiling into the camera. It’s a black-and-white photo, but in my memory, her lipstick is a vivid red. Her hair is shaped about her head in that late 40s style that seems so artificial today. When I think of her image in that photo, she looks almost beautiful to me. For most of my adult life, I’ve thought of her as big-boned, unfit and not terribly attractive. But lately, I can almost believe there was a time when she was beauty personified, the center of my universe. I can almost hold onto to the good bits and trust that they were real if rare and fleeting.


It’s my birthday. I’m 58 today.

UPDATE: May 23, 2013

Inspired by reader comments to my posts about narcissistic mothers and vindictive narcissists, I’ve released a new eBook on the Kindle platform. It’s a novella-length retelling of the classic Cinderella story, focusing on my usual themes of shame and narcissism, with a look at the tumultuous emotions behind self-injury.

By Joseph Burgo

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


  1. Happy Birthday, of course. It’s funny how birthdays make us think of our mothers when we have children, no?

    This is a bit tangential to your post but I would REALLY like your thoughts on this so am going to post it. My parents were extremely abusive – involved me in child pornography, organised horrific sexual abuse of me, etc. (if you have seen the massive can of worms opened in UK post Jimmy Savile, you have some idea). I do have a lot of compassion for them, though, and often find myself identifying with them.

    However, I have been warned time and again against this, not only by therapists but also by friends, and I do think my identification with them through compassion can become dangerous. If I had a train of thoughts like yours above about your mother e.g. catching myself nearly doing something very slightly abusive, then it can become a horrible fear that I am like them/ turning into them and that does me no favours – I gt eaten up by shame, guilt, hopelessness.

    For example, my mother (who wasn’t the sexual abuser, but enabled my father and was narcissistic) often used to humiliate me by mocking my physical appearance – as a young child, telling me I was dirty and she was repulsed by me, later on, mocking my choice of clothes etc. I recently caught myself going abit overboard verbally in relation to my toddler’s dirty bottom – showing revulsion and chiding him etc. I then had to stop my anxious chain of thoughts (as well as stopping the behaviour) that I LIKE my mother…

    In my case, it’s easier to feel sympathy for my mother because she was stuck with a pscyhopath, but she was weak and I would never make the choices she did. It’s in those little moments, just as you describe in your post, when I feel abit like her, that I have more empathy and compassion.

    I wonder what you think about the dangers of such identification (with compassion) or do you think it’s always healthy?

    1. As long as remember that you have to be on guard against the ways you resemble her, that inevitably you take after her in certain ways, then I don’t see the harm in feeling compassion. But compassion doesn’t mean minimizing her illness (or yours).

  2. Happy Birthday! Mine was a couple of days ago as well. We also have a narcissistic mother in common (mine was heavy with borderline traits too which really presented during my early childhood – such good times).
    This is the thing about the intermittent mother. How can you separate that from intermittent reinforcement? I see the good times (and I actually don’t remember any except when we were in public and she had an audience and then she was over the top physically affectionate with me which I couldn’t stand as she was physically abusive in private) when my mother was “acting” like a loving mother was only intermittent reinforcement, so that she and I (subconsciously and defensively) could deny the abuse. It served a purpose, to provide the paper thin wafer morsel of truth she needed to believe that she was a good and loving mother. But do I believe that she actually loved me in those small, now lost moments? No, I do not. I believe she only loved the image I reflected to her of a loving child to a doting mother. She never saw me once.
    I wish I could have some good TRUE memories. My internal BS mechanism was so finely honed by the time that I was 8 I never could see her as a true loving mother.
    I do feel sorry for her. For the trauma of her early life that left her basically a well-disguised reptile with little executive function; for her impulsive and idiotic decision making that never considered the needs of her children. For the dreams that she could never fulfill. But she never tried either. She literally could not hold a paper route even though she managed to graduate from an Ivy League School. And worse yet, she needed me to be a loser as well, denying me any opportunity with a jealousy well-disguised to the outside world.
    I have read so much about forgiveness which is such a loaded word for me, because you know narcissist mother and father both talked a lot about it. IE in me giving it to them. And I know I don’t HAVE to forgive to move on (just not on hold on to the hate); and honestly, it feels like it would be disloyal to myself to do so. Don’t know if that is just a hang-up on the road to wellville – or a way to hold on to the malignancy – perhaps just more time is needed. But is it me or is the intermittent mothering really a testament to how false and fleeting that maternal love is?


    1. “a well-disguised reptile”

      I love that expression!

      I think grieving is a more appropriate response than forgiving. You can move on by grieving for the horror of your childhood without having to forgive what is essentially beyond forgiveness.

  3. I had what I feel was the worst type of narcissistic mother. She was Catholic and had 6 children, one each year (and complained when she couldn’t have any more because of complications with the last). After looking after her first child for 6 months, she declared she couldn’t be bothered with nappies so she hired nannies to look after the rest of us as we came along. Church was a big deal and we were lined up like trophies each Sunday while she flaunted her husband and family and compared us to other children. I was never good enough and never measured up to my older sister (who went on to become a clinical psychologist). My father regularly beat my mother but it was never discussed. When I was 12 my father began sexually molesting me. Sex was never discussed in our family. It was a matter of great shame. My only defense after a while was to scream and kick when he touched me. My mother would rage that I was ‘evil’ and ‘making a scene’ and hit me. I was threatened that if I ever made a scene in public I would get the hiding of my life. As it turned out I got more hidings than hot meals. All my mother was concerned with was protecting the public image she had created of her perfect family. After a few of my scenes, she began telling her acquaintances that I was mentally unstable and a horrible burden to her. She repeatedly called me a liar when I tried to tell her what my father was doing to me. As his violence against me escalated, so it decreased for her. I left home at 17, put myself through university and qualified as a teacher of children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. I have not seen or spoken to her in 7 years. I will never forgive her. She did not protect her children from their sociopathetic father and continues to cover for him and attack and accuse anyone who tries to expose the truth.

      1. After feeling miserable and guilty for hating my alcoholic father and his family, a priest said to me that I shouldn’t let him haunt me from beyond the grave. What I took from his comment was that it would be better not to think about him than to try to forgive, especially since they (his family) couldn’t see that they had done anything wrong. They just resented me. After I stopped trying to forgive him, I was able to move on.

          1. Thank you, Dr. Burgo. I live remotely and was unable to access the internet until a few yrs. ago. I was quite shocked, actually, when I came across all this “Forgiveness” stuff for Adult Children. I terminated the relationship with my “mother” many decades ago, long before computers, the internet etc. Frankly, HUH? “Forgiveness” never even occurred to me; it simply was not on my radar at all and I’ve really thought long and hard about why this was…ultimately it came down to this: Would I forgive a snake for being a snake? Or any kind of Predator for being a Predator? Of course not-it’s a non-issue. Do we tell or insinuate to adults in abusive relationships they have to “forgive” in order to “heal?” No, we tell them to get out any way they can and we don’t tell them they need to “forgive” their abusive partner. Now, how does that “fit” in a relationship that is clearly one of unequals?!
            My “mother” was who she was. This clearly was a relationship of unequals even when I became an adult and my decision to NC did not require I understand why she was the way she was or provide any further “assistance” to her than I had up to that point in my now Adult life. If my presence wasn’t helping (and it wasn’t for either of us) my absence wouldn’t hurt. Her Scorched Earth War against her “DD” post NC until her death to this world repeatedly confirmed my decision.
            I long ago stopped even mentioning I no longer had a relationship with my “mother” as I was routinely met with such statements as, “But she’s your MOTHER!” Yes, I’m well aware of that and the label allowed her to continue to abuse me well into my adult life and stalk me relentlessly post NC for the rest of her life. Giving birth does not make you a mother: It makes you most fundamentally post-partum. I also heard, “She did the best she could.” No, she did what she did. Repeatedly.
            Bruises fade. Burns scar over. Broken bones mend. However, a “mother” who repeatedly violates their child’s mind and heart or does not protect them from other Predators simply because they can’t-or won’t-for what ever reason is a disgrace to all the truly *GOOD* moms. If I believed I “had to forgive in order to heal” I would have remained mired in the muck, more confused and far less likely to get on with the real stuff of living. Plenty of us have had less than charmed childhoods and have not carried on their disgraceful Legacy despite not “forgiving” and have “healed” well enough to have productive, satisfying adult lives externally and more importantly, internally. I also had the “Grudge” label attributed to me secondary to my decision to NC. No, I was not “Holding a grudge;” I was holding her accountable for her behavior just the same as all adults (who are not psychotic) including me are accountable for our behavior as well. Is that “judgmental?” You bet it is and as an adult it is my responsibility to judge who and what is-and is not-acceptable. Age certainly does not confer wisdom, but it does give one lots of experience. Failure to learn from experience is sheer hubris, IMO. Humility does not mean any adult needs to “forgive” a repeat transgressor/perpetrator regardless of their label or relationship, DNA or otherwise.
            Life was not meant to be a life sentence. The decision to limit or terminate a relationship with a parent is fraught with enough pain, sorrow and inherent burdens in addition to those the Adult Child is already bearing without adding “Forgiveness” to the mess. From a (now) historical view, terminating a relationship may in fact be the most compassionate response for all parties. “Forgiveness” may sound PC but to this old widow, it simply sounds foolish.
            Happy belated Birthday, Dr. B.-you youngster! 😉 Just for your personal consideration, are you holding a “grudge” or holding your mother accountable for her life long pattern of behavior/actions? Your humanity shines through your work: My sense is it’s the latter.
            Again, many, many thanks from the old broad in the back of the room.
            (And I hope you’re catching up on your rest.)

            1. “Would I forgive a snake for being a snake? Or any kind of Predator for being a Predator? Of course not-it’s a non-issue.”

              I love this! I myself often describe vindictive narcissists as reptilian in nature.

              As for your final question, I think I was holding her accountable — and I still do — but I’m now able to find a place where I do feel some compassion (not a lot) for her own struggles. I do agree with you, however, that there are some mothers without any redeeming qualities and the best thing to do is cut them out of your life.

              1. Thank u, with my mother on her apparent death bed, I feel compassion for her but am not sure I want to grant her final wish for me to call her. As calling would be about her, not what I need after 12 yrs of nc. I feel great sorrow for her and the decisions she made, but I didn’t make them, I just learned to live with them, to grieve the relationship I would never have with her, she would never be my mum she doesn’t have capacity for that.

            2. I know I’m arguing with the argument here rather than the point but one could hardly “Blame” or hold a snake responsible for being a snake. It never had a choice in the matter.

          2. I don’t want to forgive but what I find ends up happening is I just try to avoid any thoughts or reminders of him. Without forgiveness, the memories become to hard to handle. Where’s the balance?

              1. Grief. Yes. That is so right. My “father” died almost four months ago. Today, the enveloping grief is gone, but for months I railed and writhed in the anguish that he did not sweep in before the end and save me, protect me, love me, respect me, honor me, or share his “true” feelings with me, his only child.

                The last minute came and went. I was abandoned as I had been for years. The grief, the loss, that I felt at not having a relationship with a father was crushing. He failed me, and he did not acknowledge his failure, nor try to make it right. He was content to leave this world asserting that all wrongs flowed from me and my failings. All of his feelings were my fault.

                His death was a relief. I could finally stop hoping for a change that I knew would never come. My grief for a lost core relationship has passed. I will never know what a father’s love should be, and I can stop waiting for it.

                Raising my own child with a loving partner sometimes takes my breath away. How the needs of a child are so obvious and so hard to ignore. How my child has no idea how to be invisible, no fear of expressing feelings, does not live in fear. Where was their compassion for me?

                I was never (even to this day) a full person equal to them. I was a thing in their lives, not a person with a life of my own.

                I used to think that without them, I could not exist. Now I cannot wait for my wretched mother to die, so at last, I can be free.

  4. This is a wonderful article! I have the same struggle as well. We think our unfit parents may have died, but their belief system is still playing inside of us on repeat. It definitely helps to understand why they may have been that way but it also gets to a point where we need to just let go. I have been working with Self Regulation therapy and getting good results. Happy Bday Joe!

  5. Happy Birthday! I like this article being that it’s the week of Mother’s Day. I live 2,000+ miles from my mother & also struggle to feel compassion for her over sadness and resentment. She was raised in an orphanage in the 1940’s & should never have had kids. I attached to my dad but not her & have spent a lifetime mistrusting females & not even trying with her. But now I’m definitely more aware of her innocence. I’m sorry for the both of us. Not just for lost childhoods, but for the limited intimacy I know we’re both subject to as a result. Years of therapy have helped but it will never feel natural.

  6. To have ambivalent feelings about someone is like balancing a light switch between off and on, even though the light can only ever be off or on.
    I hope you enjoy your birthday. At 58, the cake has to be big for the candles to fit. Maybe not such good news if you bake it yourself though, but still.

  7. That’s a beautiful story. l have a narcissistic mother also but we have a relationship because I keep my emotional expectations low and the boundaries high.

  8. First, Happy Birthday Joe! I hope your day has been a good one and that you’re able to celebrate it with family and friends who love and appreciate you unconditionally.

    Second, I’ve recently come to the very painful realization that my adoptive mother has contributed, in large part, to some key emotional struggles I’m dealing with. Up until a couple of months ago, I thought she had only the best of intentions where I’m concerned. I won’t go into details because it would take too long but suffice it to say the blinders have finally come off and I can no longer ignore just how narcissistic she really is. Here I’ve been thinking my adoptive parent has been loving my unconditionally all these years when the fact is, as soon as I stand up for myself, she doesn’t want me in her life unless it’s on her terms. I’m finding that a very tough pill to swallow at this point in my life (I’m 49). In working with my therapist, I’m learning to stick up for myself – not an easy feat when you’re used to taking everything your mom says as gospel.

    Anyway, I just want to say I love reading your posts, as they’ve helped fill in some of the blanks in my healing process. As a recovering alcoholic with only a little more than 4 yrs of sobriety under my belt, she’s sorely tested it in recent weeks and I simply cannot/will not/must not let it happen again. I can’t go down that road again. I’m not good at the “war of words” where she’s concerned and must keep a suit of armor on. That’s pretty sad.

    I’ve hit bottom 3 times, spent the night in jail and lost my license for 15 months. I may not be so lucky next time, regardless of how much I want to dull the hurt and pain I’m feeling some days with copious amounts of alcohol. Chucking my sobriety out the window is just not worth it – mother or not.

    Again, sending you warm birthday wishes!

    Shauna Lee

    1. That’s a very painful realization to reach. I imagine it will take quite some times, probably years, to integrate the pain and get to some balanced perspective.

  9. Happy birthday! And thanks for sharing this personal story. I imagine that “Almost” represents real progress!

  10. Our brain chemistry surrounding regulating emotion is formed as we grow up. So how we were reacted to by our parents is with us forever.

    My own mother was similar; she would burst in a rage that I didn’t understand regularly, but also in a controlled manner because she knew it was “bad” and understood psychology. So I felt shocked and hurt because I sensed her reaction, but because it wasn’t too overt, there was a rule I couldn’t mention it or have any negative feelings. She would go as far as threatening to kick me out at 10 or so if I kept at it.

    It still is there. The reaction to most negative emotions – anger, fear of her, distrust – was so strong that this got in my neurons. It took me a long time to understand why when I feel those emotions, I feel like I’m about to be attacked, even as an adult with no one in the room. I’ve done a lot of work but it’s still there.

  11. First and foremost, Happy Birthday!!!

    In reading your account of your mother, I am left wondering how.. HOW on Earth did you get to where you are today?! I had a horrible mother (neglectful consistently and abusive sometimes and a real mother on some occasions, particularly in public or at church). At what point did you decide to delve into your own issues and to pursue psychology (to delve and/or to help others)? I’m amazed. I’m 38 and just now realizing I was harmed. I’m so far behind. My therapist blows my mind today in our session – after 140 sessions or so – I have never been my own person in this world. And I know it’s true. I’m the girl you describe in your writings (which I can’t wait to read). So… my question stands, but my larger point is… good for fucking YOU! You have a great life to celebrate, thanks to you!

  12. Happy Birthday Joe!

    Thank you so much for this post… it seems the struggle in coming to terms with one’s parents is a life-long ‘tale’ and i wonder whether writing fiction is allowing different narrative possibilities for your own (his)story?
    As for myself, i don’t think creative work is ‘mere’… particularly in your field ~ look where it got Freud and Jung!

  13. Dear Joseph,
    Happy Birthday!
    You have just described so well the process that I am doing with my own mother, now that I am 45. These thoughts and remembrances keep coming back, some are good in my case, many are not even close to “fair enough”. I am learning to try to put myself in her shoes and understand why she took the attitude that I witnessed in our life in common. I am letting go of my rage and beginning to forgive. Notwithstanding, it takes a great deal of will to even start to learn and forgive…
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience.
    Kind regards,

  14. Happy Birthday, Dr. Burgo!
    What a great birthday gift you have given yourself with this post.
    Thanks a lot for sharing it with us readers.
    Do you think the things your mother secretly dreamed of doing or having were unattainable for a woman back then? Do you think she would have been able to articulate what it was she wanted?

  15. Happy Birthday for yesterday Joe. Hope you had a great day. Funny enough I was re-reading your previous post on the narcissistic Mother this weekend. I think I have come to appreciate, for me, that my mum wasn’t completely narcissitic, but our family model was. (The Narcissistic Family by Stephanie Donaldson- Pressman and Robert Presssman was a book I read a couple of years ago that really helped me a lot with this.) It always amazes me how hard it is for me to remember the “good” moments with my mum. I know that they do exist. If I physically force myself to sit and think ….they are there. But non of them seem real, even though at the time, in that brief moment I would have felt loved and happy. It saddens me deeply because I love my mother and want more than anything to have compassion and acceptance for her. I know she was/is doing the best that she can but at times the anger I feel is overwwhelming. I guess at the moment the first step is learning to have compassion and acceptance of myself. I have only been in therapy for just over a year so your post has given me hope that with time this will come.
    Keep Writing:-)

  16. I think those moments of really understanding how your mother felt and what made her behave the way she did are crucial for the ability to truly forgive. I wish for you that the inner peace that comes when you can feel that your heart forgives will be with you on your birthday and make it a truly happy one!

  17. Happy Birthday Joe! I can’t wait to read your version of Cinderella. Guess it won’t be starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere (with any luck!) Thank you for your compassion towards your own mother and mothers in general. I have raised three children and I can see that my mothering has been toxic (or intermittent) at times. But I really have tried my best, given the resources available to me, internal and external, and I am sure this is true of my own mother. Time for Philip Larkin, I think:

    Philip Larkin – This Be The Verse

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    Not sure about the final couplet :S

    1. I know and love this poem. Philip Larkin was brilliant!

      My version of Cinderella is pretty dark and I definitely do not see Julia Roberts in the lead! It began when I asked myself the question, “Would Cinderella really have turned out to be so nice and well-adjusted if she’d grown up surrounded by people who hated and abused her?” As you might imagine, shame figures prominently in the story. Cinderella has a narcissistic mother and of course, Prince Charming turns out to be a narcissist, as well.

      1. I think I might be Cinderella…i nearly turn out to be evil…but I had my wise dads,my career in caring and lastly i found GOD…If I may say so myself,i think i am pretty ok at present…And of course i grieved and then forgave…You are also my ‘wise dad’…

      2. I believe it’s possible. I would never EVER abuse a child but I do think in my case it has made me into a nicer and better person. any time I make progress with my therapist and start to become who I really am, I find the undesirable characteristics come out and I end up reverting back to being shy and a push over. so I do think it’s possible for Cinderella to be nice after those years. I think it’s more of an insecurity and complaissive kindness more than anything else though.

  18. First and foremost Happy Birthday. Since we have just “met,” I wont do to you what I do to my other friends. Oh what the heck
    Happy Birthday to you,
    Happy Birthday to you,
    Happy Birthday dear Joe,
    Happy Birthday to you!!!
    I am glad you can get to that place with your Mom. I have done a lot of work on “Mom,” and am at that place where I am not as much empathetic any more for her, I am ambivalent any more about her.
    She was at my father’s memorial in January of this year, they had been divorced over 37 years ago, and one of my nieces came over and asked if she could sit at our table(My mother wont speak to me since I confronted her about her sexually abusing me) because as she said it, “Grandma is speaking nasty about everyone in here.”
    I am not afraid of Mom’s voice anymore!
    Again, Happy Birthday! Who would have thought, huh?

  19. Dr. B-
    Happy Birthday!
    Thank you for a timely post–been struggling a little bit as Mother’s Day approaches with “the yuckies”: seeing signs proclaiming unending love for all mothers out and about town and not having those feelings inside of me about mine. Reading your words helps to ground me (again) in what is behind that angst.
    Similar epiphany I had a year or so ago about the nasty part of my mother that is “alive and well within me”. Sitting at my desk at work and hearing a small child crying in an adjacent room about impending vaccines. A reflexive, “LOUD-DER, I CAN’T HEEEAAAR YOU” arose from my lips. This is something I heard while crying as a child. I was horrified to hear this come, whispered, out of my pediatrician mouth. Fortunately, no one else was there. I don’t think I was able to take that the next step and find compassion for her (or myself). I think this is a nice intention for me, and perhaps a gift to both her and I, for this Mother’s Day.

  20. Happy Belated Birthday! Hope you had a great day.
    Mother’s Day week always depresses me. I was separated from my mother at 4-5 years of age. And my stepmother was like the one in the Cinderella story…maybe not as bad, maybe worse, but she too abandoned me in my young adulthood…ie., no contact or concern for my children etc., This week I have been debating whether or not to send out mother’s day cards. [I reconnected at 18 ,on a limited basis with my biological mother] I can think of one or two nice moments-which angers me too. My secondary emotion is anger and primary emotion is incredible pain due to being neglected and unloved. All those people that having loving mothers are lucky.

  21. Happy Birthday Jo! Congratulations this step towards peace and forgiveness. Thank you for sharing. What a gift.

  22. This post has particular resonance to me today. I fully recognize the statement “we all know you can read”, as being one those little mean comments from my own mother and have heard many like it throughout my adult life. However, I am slowly but surely coming to a place of peace and acceptance with my mother. Our relationship has always been tentative, ever since I was a teenager I suppose. However, the past year our mother/daughter relationship has undergone a seemingly a rapid fire deterioration.

    It is my belief that some of the contributing stresses for this have to do with the arrival of my 50 year old alcoholic brother into my aging parents home. At any rate, after three years of therapy and feeling at times very low, I feel a light slowly coming on. There have been many days over this past year I have felt so very low, punished by mom’s ever increasing pattern of abusive comments, ignoring behavior, withdrawing all communication and/or when she did grace me with contact, taunting me with accusations that were outright fabrications.

    Oddly enough, my brother, a father of two sons he has no contact with and who has not been a functional person or held a job for 13 years is seemingly golden. If anyone contradicts anything he says or does they are attacked by mom. There have been days I could not crawl deep enough into my pillow. I have felt I was useless and unworthy despite my own accomplishments. My father has normally been the only parent to recognize my accomplishments. I have been in therapy and have started to recognize and understand some of the ignoring behavior, withdrawal of affection, and outrageous accusations as a pattern of behavior since I was about 11 years old. It has been a very painful reckoning at age 53.

    I saw my mom last week. She came into town and rather than visit or stay with me, she booked a hotel. She had made this announcement to me over one of our rare phone calls and she assumes an school girl type of excitement when she is about to make a statement to me and inflict pain. I was on the speaker phone and my brother was in the background laughing when she made her announcement to me.

    It was another in a series of hurts my mother seems to enjoy throwing at me via long distance. My husband and I have always hosted my parents and living over 300 miles away, our home has normally been the place where my parents stay when they come to town. In past years, my mother would have normally called me to discuss her plans and share with me her excitement over her pending trip. No more. On this occasion, she seemed to take a certain pleasure in announcing to me her impending visit and told me about her choice of hotel.

    I know the rules and her message was that I was being punished for some unknown crime and I had to guess and was supposed to beg. I chose not to do so, instead I decided not to take it personally, accepted her right to stay where ever she wanted and told her I hoped we could see her and hoped she had a good visit. I did not call her back to beg for her to reconsider as I normally would, instead I left her alone with her plans.

    She did call me later that week to ask if I would meet her for dinner. I fully expected we might have some “pow wow” since the past year (at least since my brother’s arrival) had been especially ugly. I agreed and had welcomed the opportunity as I have no desire to close the door to contact and love both my mother and father dearly. My father is in very poor health. I steadied myself to stand my ground and calmly, lovingly and firmly restate my truths despite her unfounded accusations or mean behavior towards me. She acted like nothing had transpired. An entire year of abject meanness, complete withdrawal of communications at times, ignoring my voice mail requests to call and see how they were, all the angst, all her unfounded and outrageous accusations to me (early this year she had accused me of being in love with my father), and upon seeing her she acted as if nothing had transpired! Instead, she went on with mundane chatter about superficial things.

    Instead of trying to force any sort of heart to heart talk, I found myself accepting her avoidance. I suppose I felt I wanted her love and at some deeper level, I knew it would prove fruitless to try and hold any meaningful discussions. At our meeting, I was nothing but loving towards her. All my resolve melted. Even as horribly as I felt she has been towards me over the past year, I could not and did not force any meaningful conversation. I just knew in my heart she couldn’t cope and had shielded herself from the realization of what she had done.

    What I saw when I looked into her eyes as she spoke insignificant chatter was really a very scared and a frightened little woman. I saw her as a scared person, almost like a teenager who had very little real self-confidence and who was busying herself with other thoughts as a means of deflection and protection. I felt empathy and pity. I felt as if I wanted to hug her and protect her, which I know is what my father has always felt. We had a pleasant enough time out. I hugged her as we parted. I told her I loved her, and all she could do was nervously chuckle, hug me back and say “well”.

    I then recalled my grandmother doing the very same thing. My mother’s mother could never look at you and say “I love you”. Rather, I remembered my visits with my grandmother and I remembered as a child how critical she always was of mom to me as a teenager. My grandmother was my biggest ally when I was a teenager. She encouraged anything goes, she even smoked pot with me telling me not to tell my mom, which of course I did.

    I recalled every time I told my grandmother: “I love you Gram”, she would squirm a bit, shrug up her shoulders and say: “me too”. Seeing my mother’s response to my loving embrace and her moment of discomfort, I felt this huge realization and sense of empathy for whatever it is my mother had suffered as a child. I think understand the abusive patterns that she inflicts on me so easily are from deep emotional scars she carries with her are not necessarily of her own making or choice.

    I’m slowly gaining my sea legs. I feel I have some level of understanding that these abusive behavior patterns are defense mechanisms and my mom unconsciously repeats the pattern in order to protect herself from her own inner fears. I saw the fear behind her eyes for the first time. Maybe I am totally wrong and I’m seeing something that is simply not there or I attribute her with something that she just doesn’t have inside.

    However I want to feel empathy for her pain and her behaviors. I want to feel there is a reason she has built up over time to protect her from of looking hard into her own past. In my heart I ache for her and a part of me wishes I could take away the pain of what I feel certain my grandmother must have done to mom as a child. I know enough now to know mom can strike me without remorse; just like a coiled rattlesnake, but it’s beginning to feel a bit easier to distance myself from her rapid fire strikes. I feel I can slow it down, change my own defense response patterns, take a step back and withdraw and feel empathy for her own pain.

  23. Happy Birthday Joe, I hope you had a good day.
    Regarding my own narcisstic mother I doubt that I will ever be able to say anything good about her. I can’t see anything good apart from her doing the basics of feeding me and sending me to school. She was malignant; she simply hated me and persecuted me at every oppertunity. The losses I have sustained because of her are too great for me to ever feel real compassion for her – I lost my sisters and my brother because of her and my nephews and nieces (she stirred their hatred against me from the beginning and they think I’m as selfish, mean, greedy, lazy etc as she does). I didn’t create a family of my own because of her…I was too damaged. I have some physical health problems (and of course mental health problems) that are a direct result of her abuse.
    I think it doesn’t help that she’s still alive. I may be able to hate her less if she were dead.
    I’m very painfully aware of how much like her I was (prior to therapy). I know some of her feelings/behaviour is with me still – she was so critical of others – I can be too. I know she had an horrific childhood; worse than mine because she had no father. She was extremely jealous of my father’s love for me.
    maybe one day I will feel less hatred…we’ll see.

  24. Very poignant post for me. It is truly difficult to stay in touch with and tolerate the feeling of being abandon repeatedly, of having the good love that you need and then losing it, of not being able to count on the love. Sometimes it is easier to pretend that there never were any good times, to tell yourself that you were completely screwed, but that position leads one to feel bitter, cynical and hardened inside. Unfortunately, the truth is usually a mix of good and bad, and it is just as important for one’s health to acknowledge the good moments as it is to recognize the failings.

    1. Yes. It’s often difficult to hold onto that nuanced, “ambivalent” view, where even if the bad bits outnumber the good bits by far, they don’t wipe out that goodness.

  25. Happy Birthday, Dr. Burgo! The only gift I can give are my words of appreciation for the connection you have established with your readers. Thank you for letting me and others get to know the you presented in this blog. He seems to be an honest, authentic guy — a great role model for us all! Eat an extra piece of cake for your readers; we celebrate you!

  26. A belated happy birthday to you! I thought it was poignant to write about your mother on your birthday. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have been going through something similar myself lately and find myself looking at old photos of me as a baby and toddler with my mother. I think I am desperately looking for signs that she really loved me and cared for me, even though my therapist says photos can be deceiving and hide all manner of truths. I have also been feeling more compassionate for her recently and trying to understand what her life might have been like with three young children, a husband who might be described at best as “difficult and complicated” and the constant grind of cleaning and other jobs to try to make ends meet. I realise I didn’t know much about her hopes and dreams, but that I sometimes saw her sad, and quite often angry, so I guess she wasn’t happy and possibly depressed. I know in my heart of hearts I want to make excuses for her so that it makes me feel better about myself, but there may also be some grains of reality there too which might explain some of her lacking.

  27. Happy birthday, Joe 🙂

    It’s good that you can put things like that car ride into some perspective. Sometimes, people can just get annoyed, even with children! It’s part of life, and no parent is perfect.

    In fact it may even be part of the inevitable separation process – that realization that “wow, I’m not actually the center of the universe.” To know that your parent can be annoyed with you, yet they are also still the ones who did, and do, sacrifice immensely for you, is to begin to learn the complexity of life and a more realistic view of one’s place in it.

    1. Greg, as I said in another response to a comment, I don’t think this was simple annoyance. The degree of sarcasm and rage was intense, and frequently expressed.

    2. Part of appreciating the complexity of life is understanding that there are people who give birth to and then abuse their offspring. Those abused, shamed children believe that due to the damage done to them that their place in the world is apart from ‘normal’ humans. This site is about understanding and healing from that damage.

  28. Happy Birthday, Joe! I am a big believer in celebrating the joy of a new life (no matter how many years have gone by). 🙂 I eagerly read you blogs when they are posted. Of course, I’m writing because this one hits home. I didn’t have a narcisstic mother, just one who probably had other issues (her sister is schizophrenic) that didn’t allow her to be a parent. I was lucky that she did pay attention to the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, but other than that, her children were out of luck. All her attention went to her abusive husband. I, too, am in therapy for this and other issues. All my life I believed that I was the one who caused her to dislike me so much. I’m beginning to realize that that is not the case. I am not at a point, as you are, of seeing anything of value in her or our “relationship”. I can’t “see” any of the moments when she must have faked being a good mother. I honestly don’t think there were any. I, too, have felt there were times with my own kids that I was “just like her”. I probably was at times but, thankfully, my kids turned out okay. What I struggle with is that I turned out okay, too, despite her. Thank you for your posts. It always help to read about someone who has gone through similar experiences and what they’ve done and felt about it.

  29. Timely post. I’m working on a project and I found myself struggling with the concept that when we reflect on our childhoods and tally blame and refuse to let go of the injustices done to us by our parents, it’s best to recall that most people do the best they can…My rational mind wants to discount that because being a parent means you put your needs aside and your first priority becomes raising an emotionally and physically fit child. Then I let my emotional mind take over and realized that as kids we’re not privy to the emotional struggles of our parents–we’re looking back to a time when we didn’t have an accurate frame of reference by which to view the situation.

    It makes sense to look for the good–to remember those glimpses of warmth, or genuine joy, even if they were only temporary.

    Thank you for a most insightful reflection on your experience. I felt the flush of embarrassment for Chuck and I imagine how abrupt the verbal lashing. It’s inevitable that mortal death does not mean psychological death. Glad you caught yourself many years later and found compassion in the process.

    Happy Birthday!

  30. Happy birthday Joseph. I find myself conscious of trying to get to the bottom of these matters myself as if against the clock. Something about the defined date of a birthday seems to make our efforts ever more desperate, seemingly so we can get away from our wounds and make the best of our time as if with some new found wisdom. Your book has taught me there is no holy grail of enlightenment, more that we just get better at correcting our course and staying on sight, rather than veering off and wandering aimlessly. May I wish your birthday to be full of peace joy and clarity for you and those close to you.

  31. I feel I know you….I am also 58 and was raised by a narcissistic mother….Your comment of how my mother was so loving when I was a child and with all my siblings when they were infants struck such a chord with me….My mother had many unfulfilled dreams which she really blamed on myself (she got pregnant at 15) and my dad….She is still living and living a miserable existence…I have forgiven her and know that she knew no better….It is myself who needs to undergo more change at this point in my life……

  32. I was very moved by your recent post, “The Narcissistic Mother Revisited”. I appreciate your flashes of memories. It helped me to really join you in the post and share the experience, almost viscerally. I didn’t have a narcissistic mother, but didn’t come out unscathed either. Thanks for your great work. I will continue to visit this site.

  33. Happy birthday, Joe!
    Of course, your mother was beautiful. There`s a japanese saying “when one is 18 even the Devil is beautiful.” (no pun intended!). I`m glad to hear that your grudge against your mother is decreasing.

    Mothers have enormous influence on their children. I was badly wounded mentally myself, but have at last managed to forgive her (I think. But I am painfully aware that i am not able to love her. She has long been dead, but the memory of her is very much alive.)

  34. Oh, my heart aches reading this.

    I don’t have a narcissistic mother (at least I don’t thinks so), but I certainly have my issues with her. I wonder why she was so weak-willed that she didn’t save us from my abusive father. I wonder how at one moment, she can tell me I am a beautiful, lovely little girl, and the next moment stand by and do nothing as my father’s malignant abusive rage erupted in my direction. My mother had her angry, selfish moments, too. I’m not sure what I’m getting at…..I just think that I felt like my mom sometimes took out her anger and frustration at her life on my sister and me. But then on other days she would be mother-of-the-year.

    I am a young mom and it absolutely terrifies me when I see a flicker of my mother’s behavior in myself. Today I was more abrupt with my son than I needed to be. I was a bit too grouchy. And it had nothing to do with him. I was anxious and ruminating and he happened to ask a silly question at the wrong time. Lord help me, I need to make sure I don’t get so caught up in my own problems that I take them out on my children, like both my father and mother did.

    And in a small way, being a parent has helped me to at least understand my mother better. I can see how easy it is to let one’s own anger and resentment ooze out into children’s lives. It frightens me, actually, how easy it would be for me to be a crummy mother. I have to calm and center myself everyday so that I can be a decent mother; a good enough mother. I don’t want my kids to feel like they are all alone out there in the world with no one to count on. I know that feeling, and it is unbearable.

    1. It’s inevitable that we will play out our emotional issues vis-a-vis our kids, but if we’re self-aware and well-intensioned, as you are, then we can limit the damage and definitely be “good enough.”

  35. Happy Late Birthday Dr. Joe! I read this post with mixed feelings because I’m pretty sure my mom was about the same as yours. Not quite good enough (actually not even close to good enough) but not really evil; and also with a fair amount of pain and emotional baggage from her own childhood. It is so much more satisfying for some reason to think about the bad parts of her mothering. In fact when I think of her when she was trying to be loving to me, it makes my skin crawl. The different part for me is that my mom is still alive. She is getting some slight dementia and apparently has had some time to think about her parenting. The last several times I have been with my parents my mom has made it a point to get very emotional and teary and talk about what a bad mother she was! She will bring up her selfishness and even actual incidents which I don’t remember about how selfish and horrible she was. And here is the really weird part. Then I comfort her. “It’s OK mom-it wasn’t so bad-it must have been hard”. So I make her feel better about what a horrible mom she was. It’s weird. And I can tell you-it does not feel good. I run as fast as I can until the next get together. I wish it felt healing but I feel like I am being manipulated, not really truly apologized to. I don’t know. But I hate it. I don’t know if there is a way now, a doorway of some sort, to try to start to heal the damage but I do not want to open it or go in. But that seems kind of stupid on my part. Shouldn’t I try to start to forgive? But it makes me want to vomit. I think I may be incredibly afraid of my own anger coming out at her.

    1. I don’t know if it’s anger or grief you’re afraid of, but I think you should start by answering differently. How about, “You’re right, Mom. You were pretty selfish. I know you had your own struggles, but a lot of the time, it was really painful, having you for a mother.” You can’t forgive before you get real.

      1. Wow. Get real. Forgiveness. Scary shit man. It would take some real courage but I will think about it. Thanks.

        1. Just out of curiosity. Did you ever get to tell your mom something like what you suggested? If so, what happened?

            1. Sorry, you suggested in your response to my post that I make a more honest comment to my mom and get real. Which seems very hard to me. Specifically it was-you said I might try saying to my mom- “You’re right, Mom. You were pretty selfish. I know you had your own struggles, but a lot of the time, it was really painful, having you for a mother.” You can’t forgive before you get real.- So I was just wondering if you ever said anything like that to your own mother and commenting that it would be very hard for me to get up the courage to say something like that to my mom.

              1. I was able to…I had a lot of anxiety imagining it and doing it. It helped me to think, “I have nothing to lose.” What I imagined I could lose-my mother’s acceptance and love-I didn’t actually have. I had a pretend relationship, a relationship that if I lost I didn’t actually lose anything. I would lose a fantasy of having a mother. I would gain a feeling of strength in myself. It wasn’t until I understood on a deep level (which caused a great deal of sadness) that I had nothing (because she gave nothing as a mother) to lose was I able to speak up.

  36. Happy Birthday Joe! I appreciate your honesty when writing about your mom. You’ve risen above and grown beyond any mistakes she made in raising you. You’re out in the world doing good and helping others and writing compelling, important books. Keep up the great work!

  37. ‘with barely concealed rage, “Yes, Chuck — we know you can read.”

    I mean, how barely concealed was the rage? I think its unrealistic to think a parent should be sweet and patient all the time. I know I’m not. Should I expect my child to be damaged by those moments of my weakness (I.e. tiredness etc)?

    1. It seems to me that he is talking about a woman who was so full of rage and bitterness that she created a generally hostile home for her children; to the point where it caused serious depression in her child and the necessity of over a decade of professional help.

    2. I think parents should strain with every fibre of they’re being not to inflict anger and hatred on their children. I do believe personally that every cause has an effect, if you do lose your temper I think it’s right that one apologies to the child and makes it clear that while the child’s behavior may (may) not have been ok, the child is ok and mommy still loves him or her very much.

  38. Hi Dr. Joe,

    I really appreciate how you describe your experiences with your mother…I have some similar difficulties but with my father, it often is quite hard for me to admit to myself that there are lovable parts within him as well…
    When you describe how your mother was going off in the car, do you remember feeling embarrassed in front of your friend? That´s how I often felt in such moments, like a big wave of disgust coming over me for my dad…
    How about writing something about the mostly bad father 😉 ?

    many regards,


    1. I don’t think I felt embarrassed, but now that you ask that question, I wonder why I didn’t. It seems an appropriate and understandable response. I’ll see what I can do about a post on fathers.

  39. Happy Birthday, Joe. What you say is very interesting to me. My mother was similar, maybe worse. Anyway she was mad and angry and could be vicious ans seemed to wage a campaign of terror against me which was quite annihilating. When she died i could not grieve for her in the way I could for my father. But as I get older I see her very differently and also when I became a mother, I realised how hard her life was. And I think our feelings about our mothers are perhaps more complex than about our fathers because they were the prime carer. And as a prime carer I now have a different take on things. What I find difficult is honouring the child in me that was very damaged and not ignore her by forgiving the unforgivable, but to acknowledge the good that was in my mother. I have also realised as I have got older (60) that things could have been so much worse and despite what she took away, I acknowledge there was love there too. I also think that mothers in our culture are in a difficult position, with little support and status and given a lot of blame. My mother had an abusive childhood, a shotgun marriage, no choice but to have children and my father’s family looked down on her and despised her. Her family disowned her. Not much support there. Then my father moved her to a different country where her lack of confidence from a deep sense of shame, made it hard for her to make friends. Sometimes I wonder how she did as well as she did. I, too, look at an old photos of my mother and the person that was there before motherhood looks unrecognizable 10 yrs later. From happy and vibrant to ill and old. I could go on and on, but that is probably enough for anyone to read! I have been in psychotherapy for thirty years and have many theories ! It became my life’s mission to be a better mother than my own and I am pretty sure I have failed!

    Anyway, congratulations on the book!

    1. “What I find difficult is honouring the child in me that was very damaged and not ignore her by forgiving the unforgivable, but to acknowledge the good that was in my mother.”

      That’s what I aim for. I do believe that some things are unforgivable. What I find most difficult is that I know my mother didn’t do her best, she didn’t try hard enough. She too often collapsed and gave up, slipping into resentment and self-pity.

      1. Oh Joe — thank you so much for saying this:

        ” What I find most difficult is that I know my mother didn’t do her best, she didn’t try hard enough. She too often collapsed and gave up, slipping into resentment and self-pity.”

        That describes my own mother perfectly. And it’s this that is difficult for me to settle on — that she didn’t do her best. Because that’s what I’ve always thought. Even years later, and being a mother of two daughters myself, I still think she didn’t do her best.

        My own mother never came close to the doing her “best” as I am trying so hard to do for my own girls. I’ve attempted suicide believing my girls would be better off with another mother or no mother at all. I am often confused as to why I am NOT parenting the way my mother parented me. It can look so similar! But as you’ve described in comments above — it’s difficult to capture the depth of rage and sarcasm in her voice. Those memories can be excused by others — “oh, she was doing the best she could,” “every mom loses it once in a while.” But they’re wrong. They couldn’t read the facial expressions, the inflection, that was meant just for me — that was a language only she and I spoke. The subtext was ever-present while being indiscernible to others.

        Thank you for all that you do. You’ve helped me to make meaning out of craziness.

        1. Your description of the private language and subtext rings true for me, too. Why is it that everyone always says about such mothers, “They were doing the best they could?” Why do people believe that?

          1. My mother felt envy, contempt and hatred toward her children. She wasn’t trying to be a mother, she was trying to feel good about herself be beating her children down. We were tools by which she hoped to make herself feel smart and capable. She DID “try the best she could” to elevate her self-esteem by abusing her children. People who say “they did the best they could” are ignorant of the fact that not all adults with offspring are attempting to parent; some find other uses for their children.

            1. I forgot to include (in the above post) the most essential use my biological parents made of their offspring-they brainwashed their children into feeling that they were inherently bad so that they could feel like that they (in contrast) were good people. “They did the best they could” yes, they did, and they succeeded (though parents have formidable psychological power over their children, it’s really not that impressive that they achieved their goal).

  40. Far be it from me to attempt to put a spin on your particular story, let alone dare give advice, but I do have a question, as I run across this a great deal with my own clients: what about forgiving? It’s not an idle question (although, at least on your very personal level, it is totally rhetorical), because as I am confident you find in your own work with clients, forgiving – even when it’s about such a narcissistic mother – is essential. It’s too hard – in my view – to come to any kind of healing and ultimately closure without forgiving. Or perhaps without having the intention to forgive each and every time she pops up in thought and feeling, which, in my mind (the intention) will generally, even if it’s in the very long run, bring the bearer of the pain to that place where it (the pain) no longer has power.

    1. I think people often say they forgive when they really don’t because in the current psychotherapy atmosphere, we all know that’s what we’re supposed to do. I’m also doubtful that you can try to forgive; you either do or you don’t. I aim more for for grief and understanding.

      1. Interesting … however, I don’t mean ‘trying’ to forgive, but ‘intending’ to forgive … and there is a world of difference between the two. It’s not about what anyone ‘should’ do, but rather what we ‘can’ do. If I think about my intention to forgive EACH time the thought of the act or person who perpetrated the act (or lack of love or caring, etc.) on me, then I am allowing the possibility of forgiving to enter my being. If I then also consciously choose to focus elsewhere (e.g., on something beautiful in my surroundings, and my gratitude for that), as opposed to on what was done to me, the combination of intending to forgive and focusing on beauty and gratitude (basic elements of mindfulness), may eventually – at some future point if I do this often enough – lead me to truly forgive in a way I may be unable to do rationally, logically, etc. at this very moment. (It will also create new neural pathways).

        1. I understand what you’re saying. I resist models of psychological health that suggest I ought to feel certain ways. I never strive to feel particular ways. I just try to notice what is.

          1. Again … there is no suggestion whatsoever about anything one (or you) ‘ought’ to do. On the contrary, it’s all about what a conscious and aware individual, interested in growth, inner well-being, freedom, peace, and harmony can choose to do.

          2. People contort themselves in strange shapes trying to push ‘forgiveness’; there are so many creative definitions of the word. It reminds me of the clever ‘higher power’ euphemism for the word ‘god’. There is a biblical basis for the preaching of forgiveness; it is part of the ‘honor thy father’ patriarchal gunk many people are fed as children. You’re ‘bad’ if you don’t forgive your parents. People who preach forgiveness remind me of religious missionaries-they have an agenda that has to do with their own personal psychology-it’s not about helping others. People who push forgiveness show me that they’re in conflict and they’re managing it by trying to convert others. If you’re so healed by forgiveness it will be obvious-no need to violate other people’s boundaries by pressuring them to do the same. What people do or don’t forgive (or if it’s even an issue) is personal and none of anybody else’s business.

      2. I agree. I frequent estrangement blogs and forums for adult children who have severed ties with their parents. Most (not all) have suffered some form of abuse–physical, sexual and emotional. Many are survivors of narcissistic parents. Most people who write on these blogs, once they feel safe to express their feelings will often state that they have issues with forgiveness, because so often their parent’s or the people who have abused them accuse them of being “unforgiving” and frame themselves as “imperfect” while never taking a shred of responsibility for all of the carnage that they’ve caused. People who love you are not supposed to prey on your vulnerability and betray your innocence.

        I’ve observed that there’s a ton of information, articles and advice that focuses on “forgiveness”. It’s often touted as if it’s the most spiritually evolved thing to do–as if it’s some kind of panacea for healing and recovery. What if you do not ascribe to the belief that forgiveness heals all or is not in your best interest. What if you do not want to reconcile with your abusers? I feel to “not forgive” or to not reconcile is a less popular or widely supported view and that being the case makes it all the more difficult to find support when you think it is not in your best interest.

        I feel that grief and understanding focuses more on healing and I, too, tend to resist models of psychological health that suggest that I ought to feel certain ways. Unfortunately, I’ve found that too few people seem able to understand, let alone offer any emotional support around a different viewpoint towards healing. No, instead the incessant focus is on forgiveness and reconciliation and idiotic feel good cliches. Apparently we are to make ourselves repeatedly available for more suffering, if the person doing the harming is a part of our family. I can’t support that and it makes it awfully convenient for truly abusive people to carry on.

        Thank you for expressing what you do here. I’m heartened to read your thoughts.

  41. My mom and her three sisters are narcissists. I have so many memories like that. Episodes of rage and reject that were unwarranted.

    It did help to understand there wasnt a “why” other than she (my mom) was doing the only thing she could do. It wasnt about her trying to be motherly, but about her revolving around her own shifting needs. The hurt comes from putting this person as your mother, and the natural expectations you place on her. When I forgave her, long ago, I removed such expectations. I still have to deal with stuff I learned from the exchange (codependency, narcissist traits, bpd traits), but at least she’s not the source of the pain anymore, since I let her go.

    And, my father is a narcissist too, though of a different flavor, more of the Mad Men kind. Same deal, get real and then let go.

    And thanks for sharing.

    1. The recognition that it’s not about you in particular, “but about her revolving around her own shifting needs” — that seems key. It’s less forgiveness than simply extricating yourself from a toxic relationship and moving on.

  42. Yes, Joseph. That’s it.

    “I resist models of psychological health that suggest I ought to feel certain ways. I never strive to feel particular ways. I just try to notice what is.”

  43. “It’s my birthday. I’m 58 today. ”

    I was struck by the poignancy of the last sentence of your post. At first I thought it was just hanging there alone, and then realized it may be the major theme of the content, and the responses you have received underscore you’re not alone. Your birth day is and was important, and the caring acknowledgements are symbols of the connections you may be seeking and needing.

    Count me in as one who connects with you and your work.

  44. Hi there, a very very late happy birthday! I hope your year is filled with wonder:)

    Although I am 34 I am still living with my parents due to chronic mental illness. Still, I am improving and hope to eventually find complete independence. My problem is the following: when I try consider the factors that turned my mother into the narcissist she is I do feel sympathetic. My anger melts and I feel more whole inside. Inevitably though, I let my defenses slip and then, when her total disregard/contempt for me is revealed in some instance, I am injured – again. I’m let with a depressive episode I have to work myself out of. It seems like a double-edged sword because my anger both protects and harms me.

    I too remember a painful episode in a car. We had received our weekly newsletter at school and in it the principal wrote that cross-gender dancing parties were inappropriate at our age (maybe 12?). But of course such parties continued. My parents and one older brother were in the car at the time when I said in a mocking voice ‘The principal doesn’t want the boys to dance with the girls!’ My mother’s reply, in a vicious tone, was ‘What do you care – they never dance with you anyway.’ What she said was true.

    I had forgotten that incident but my brother reminded me of it about 3 years ago. Every time I remember it now I start to cry,

  45. Happy Birthday and thanks again for your thoughts on a painful topic. My fear is often that I become my mother at times of stress.

    I always wanted to be a mother because I needed to give and recive love. My children have given me this gift. This may be flawed therapy but I often experience mothering as a means of revisiting my childhood traumas and being able to choose to react differently to those of my parents. It feels like I am powerful now to make what occurred long ago in my memory right (for me). Only last week two of my children damaged a new piece of expensive furniture. I felt and understood a lot of the emotions my mother would exhibit like “how dare you be children, poor me, I’ll have to fix the damage, the expense, don’t throw things in the house, ” but I noticed this self piteous rage and kept it contained within me and calmly expressed my disappointment and frustration at their careless behaviour. It brought back a particularly painful memory when my mother raged and moaned about me destroying her car that had been rear ended by another (I was waiting at an intersection) and never a kind word of concern for my well being only that after she received the car insurance payout she would have to make up the difference to purchase a new vehicle. On another occasion when my eldest was at preschool there was an assault by another child which my daughter told me about as I was bathing her. My being collapsed but in the days that followed I was able to stand up to the preschool, alert the family about the child in question and seek medical help for my family. Even though the incident was minor (in the case of my daughter )it felt like I was being given the power to deal with the sexual abuse of my childhood that no adult gave a flying fig about. I was feeling and managing my rage and fear but dealing with it as an adult with power and options. I had the power to speak and understand what was really happening to me. I was no ones victim.

    From your blog I’m learning that I am my mother’s daughter, which I often loathe. I love but do not like her and feel compassion for how hard she struggled to be loving and happy. She did the best with what she had to give and I feel she gave me good qualities as well.

    1. The ability to recognize that self-pitying anger but to keep it inside is a huge achievement. It’s what makes you a completely different mother from your own mother.

  46. Thanks for your post Joe. Your writing has a beauty and vulnerability to it which is very touching. Thanks for sharing.

    My parents were narcissistics who got mad at me sometimes but hearing some of the tales in the comments puts my self-pity in perspective.

  47. I had a friend a couple of years ago in London who had had an incredibly narcissistic mother. She was in her late 60’s, and her mum was already dead. She was absolutely filled with anger and bitterness towards her mother. Her hatred was all consuming. Listening to her talk about what she grew up with I can easily understand why. Needless to say she was a very lost and sad person. She had tried a few therapist…but ended up leaving all of them because they all told her she had to forgive her mother in order for her to “get better” or for them to even be able to help her. Even myself, in my naivety agreed with them. I was a qualified life coach and had spent 3 years believing I was changing my “neural pathways”. I wasn’t. I just become a really positive, fake person seething with hidden anger. I can still remember the bitterness and hurt she felt in being given that ultimatum over and over again. Needless to say she lost faith in therapy completely. Now that I have experience therapy myself, it breaks my heart to think what that must have felt like for her. If only she had found someone who was willing to sit with her pain long enough for her to start actually healing. I am grateful every day for my therapist who gives me that space . (God knows I have spent enough time judging myself with all the “shoulds” in my life. )
    All she wanted was someone to really see her just as she was … Sometimes so much damage can be done by therapists who come to sessions with their own “perception” on the correct way to heal. I believe forgiveness is a process, completely unique for everyone, that takes time while healing is happening. And for some people it might never be a possibility. Who are we to judge. One of the good things I got from life coaching is the belief that we all have our own answers inside of us. Some of us just need someone with enough patience and faith to sit with us and see us for however long it takes for us start finding them.

    1. I agree too–that it is deeply destructive and alienating. This is also what happened to me and all it did was to make me feel that I could never trust anyone, let alone be honest about my feelings, even to the very people who were supposed to support me in my path towards healing. In fact, I tend to feel it is a lie that people want honesty. It taught me that people could not be trusted PERIOD.

      “I just become a really positive, fake person seething with hidden anger.”

      Those are my observations about people–that it was a lie. I also saw the seething anger behind the mask and there was nothing remotely positive about that at all. It’s hard for me to hear the word forgiveness and equate it to healing given my experiences. Telling people that they must forgive is damaging and only teaches people to suppress what they really feel inside.

      “I can still remember the bitterness and hurt she felt in being given that ultimatum over and over again. Needless to say she lost faith in therapy completely.”

      I can relate to that as I recall some people quickly labeling me as “bitter” and “angry” when I openly tried to express intense emotions that were the direct result of the same kinds of damaging relationships that people describe here. I always felt judged and misunderstood. I never behaved that way towards others. It tended to silence me at least around them, but it also made me feel cautious and wary around most people. It was not just the labels either, but how quickly one was given the ultimatum to “forgive and forget” to “move on and get over it”. It was very clear that no one would ever be able to support me in my process, however long that took. The lack of understanding and the impatience–made my situation worse, not better and made for a very lonely, isolating existence. It sucked out all of the emotional safety and I always felt stifled, undermined, and dismissed. It validated even further my experiences of not being able to trust others, because of all the emotional pain that they wrought–even those people who were supposed to support me in my path towards healing. All it did was to inhibit honesty and it felt like such a lie–everyone always trying to silence and shush you into “wholeness and wellness”.

      I experienced more than a few damaging “therapeutic: relationships myself. I lost faith in others, but also in myself. It took me years before I was able to seek out another therapist. Hurt, upon more hurt–these situations were too long to explain. I felt so lonely and isolated at times with no one and nowhere to turn. I’ve certainly learned that I cannot trust others to be respectful of my process, let alone their interpretations of my circumstances. The huge lesson I learned was that I pay far too high a price for being authentic–open and honest with my emotions. Still most people will tell me that I’m empathetic and yet I don’t feel that it is ever reciprocated in kind.

      “All she wanted was someone to really see her just as she was”

      “Some of us just need someone with enough patience and faith to sit with us and see us for however long it takes for us start finding them.”

      Yes–that was all I really wanted too. Ironically, I found this with a male friend who encourages me to vent some of my long suppressed anger. He tells me that it is natural and that I have every right to feel as I do. It was something everyone else tried to quell, especially women. The engulfing sadness was okay, but not anger.

  48. I’ve thought some about these very issues. For me, the situation is reversed: my dad was the worst of the two. What you’ve called intermittent parenting, at least from my perspective, is more damaging than total absence. The inconsistency is very confusing and damaging to kids.

    Why, then, is there this urge in some lines of thought to look for the good in these parents? I haven’t reached any conclusions about this, but I really wonder what the benefit is. Yes, trying to view parenting from our parents perspective does provide a sense of empathy. But, to what extent is this ‘revisionist’ thinking on our part? In order to try to find peace for ourselves, do we have to create some picture of parental good in our heads? Are we so fragile and in need of parental approval (even late in life, long after our parents are gone) that we have to engage in these mental gymnastics to find it ourselves?

    Or, is it enough to recognize that they failed us a parents , understand that it had nothing to do with us, grieve that recognition, then move on?

    I don’t have any answers here. Well, other than best wishes for your birthday. sc

    1. Thanks, Scott. For me, I find that it helps my own state of mind not to hold onto a grudge, to see that there was some good in my mother. I won’t go so far as to say that I “forgive” her — that seems pointless — but I’m able to recognize that she wasn’t 100% bad.

  49. My mother was (still is) a narcissist. I find my ‘good’ memories are tainted by that undercurrent of anxiety and wary waiting for the next assault. There is no solid ground, only the shifting sands of her changing perceptions about reality and the denial of mine. The denial of me.

    I am nothing and no one, but a mirror to her. I am to watch and applaud. I don’t exist as myself. In an unguarded moment I might break out, but it is punished. I must at all costs be annihilated.

    Even as an adult I could not exist to her. At the mild end she would talk AT me. Once, I left the room as the monologue had gone on so long my bladder would not last. She was still talking as I left and when I returned she hadn’t even paused. It didn’t matter whether I was in the room or not. I am nothing.

    My father left her. So, she moved 400 miles to be near me – the ‘bad’ daughter, the one who could never get anything right. I served her. Helped her. Tried to be good enough. She spread rumours of what an awful person I was in the town I had settled in with my husband. My home of 10 years and myself as a mother of 4 of my own little ones was threatened by her. Then I noticed how much her behaviour was also affecting my children – they were nothing to her. She would corner me, talk at me, ignore them. Disapprove of them – needing their mother (me) and interrupting her ownership of me.

    I cut contact.

    Everyday I must recover. Not only from the effects of her narcissism, but from the other abuses I was subject to because of having no parental protection. I don’t know if I bare a grudge, the biggest feeling is one of frozen shock and total abandonment.

  50. ” This, I believe, is one of the most toxic effects of narcissistic mothering — for the infant to feel connection and then to be forgotten when the mother’s self-absorption takes her away.”

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here as this also resonates for me. I also feel that this intermittent type of mothering creates ambiguity. I always felt responsible for my mother’s mental health and emotional well-being and that’s a crushing, soul-sucking responsibility for a child to feel burdened with. She had a use for me–my empathy and understanding made her feel closer to me, but it over-burdened me and never felt reciprocal–like a two-way street. There was never any mutual-ism or what felt like equality. I experience most women the same way–that they see me as nurturing and empathetic, unless I try to create boundaries and stand up for myself or ask them to respect or meet my needs–they are always trying to ensnare me into relationships that never meet my needs, but are all about them.

    My first therapist told me that my problem was not about being emotionally unaware, but that it was hard for me to get out of my emotions. She also, after many sessions of describing my family and especially my older sister, stated that my issue was how to not let my sister’s problem become mine. She told me that my sister had a personality disorder. Later, another good listener and observant MALE friend, also made a similar observation when I described the unreasonable demands and expectations that I’ve encountered dealing with women (acquaintances/friends)–that my problem was other people who incessantly try to make their problems mine. There is no reciprocity. My last therapist recognized the same thing and told me that my family and in-laws were too self-absorbed as well as recognizing the emotionally abusive behaviors they indulged in trying to manipulate, bully and coerce me into providing them with what they want at my expense.

    This is my first time commenting as I’m a new visitor to your site. Thank you for writing and expressing so well what many of us feel. I’m certain you realize how triggering it can be, but also so very helpful to not feel so alone.

    I also know that I’m a complete stranger, but I do hope you had a happy and lovely birthday. I’m certainly glad you are here.

  51. I feel like I have had to deal with less conflict because my mother didn’t have a kind bone in her body. Maybe she smiled at me once when I was a baby; I really don’t care. I have no ambivalence in my feelings about her. She’s a horrible person and I haven’t seen her in decades and never will again. She was a cruel person who fed me to her raging, alcoholic, child-molesting husband. Once I was so terrified, knowing she was planning on reporting to the alcoholic that I had borrowed my sister’s socks without asking, that I mustered the courage to ask her not to (I knew it was pointless but I was desperate to avoid being attacked) she just smirked and told. I don’t pity her-she made her own misery. There are ways out, and instead of trying any, she decided to regulate her misery by scapegoating her child. May she provide some fuel for the fires in hell. Amen.

  52. My god, it seems we all have such issues with our parents. The only difference is the specifics If someone came to therapy saying that they had, on balance, a happy home life and loved and respected their all-too-human parents, and believed that despite their human foibles they honored them, would/should a therapist believe that person?

      1. Maybe they they have other issues in their lives for which they would like the help of a psychological expert. I can think of a few million possibilities. 🙂

  53. My therapist once told me that it was ok to love and to be angry at my mother all at once. I have never realized that I’ve felt very angry at my mother many times but also have felt very much loved by her. Growing up in a family of 13 children was not easy; there was not enough material or emotional resources to go around. In therapy, I’ve realized that there was love in my family but there also a lot of neglect. I remember being overwhelmed by her rage and despair. I felt that it was my duty to behave well and to protect her from more hardships so nothing bad would happen to her. I trusted her more that I could ever trust my own father or siblings. I know that I’ve paid a high price for not letting my feelings to come out when I should have being allowed to be miserable and being consoled by my parents. I still have a very hard time crying and let go ( I am 50 ). It still feels very unsafe to be vulnerable. As a mother of two sons, I’ve tried my hardest not to overwhelm my own children with my problems. I know that I’ve been a better mother than my mother was able to be. In spite of all, I just want to keep one memory of her: she would wake me up in the middle of night and check if I was ok, if I had a fever, she would lift my shirt and feel my belly and then she would bring me warm milk. I remember drinking the milk with my eyes closed and handing her the mug when I was done. My head would just hit the hard chicken feather pillow and I would be gone. This memory begs for more longing of her. It is said that our body never forgets. My kid belly will never forget her soft and warm hands! I also remember her telling us that my times at night, after an exhausting day at a farm in rural Brazil of the 60’s (no electricity), she would still force herself to have sex with my father ( at his request) so that my own brothers would be better treated on the fields the next day: a mother’ sacrifice. She passed away 26 years ago. I miss her terribly. Feliz Dias das Maes!

    1. Being able to tolerate love and anger for the same person is a sign of mental health. I think we all experience love and anger for all the people who matter deeply.

  54. Happy belated birthday! I read your posts all the time however this is my first actual comment 🙂 Thank you for making all these posts- I really appreciate your candid nature.

    You mention rage a lot in your posts and I mentioned to a therapist before that I sense my father’s voice in my head all the time but I realised today that it’s not his voice per se but rather his rage..I picked that up and I have an inner brat that can throw a tantrum when I don’t get my own way but I don’t act it out anymore.. I know not to.

    I also feel like I picked up a lot of rage from my mother too..outwardly, she acts like the nicest person ever but there is a lot of passive aggression within her too. At times, she would get very blunt with me and I would end up having an argument with her because I intuited that she was angry with me and that anger made me feel on edge and defensive. There were other times where she was loving to me so in those times, we got on really well but when she would lose her patience with me, I would genuinely feel like I hated her..I’d feel this rage against her.

    I always felt rage against my father because he never showed me any affection..I was just a burden to him, simple as that. I was costing him too much, making too much noise in the house, interrupting him when he was trying to work, talking whilst he was on the phone..he literally could get into a rage over anything so it was very much an atmosphere where the whole family was walking on eggshells around his moods and rages all the time.

    I notice that I’m quite passive aggressive at times-I was at the doctor recently and the doctor made what I considered to be an abrupt remark and I just didn’t return because I felt so angry..I felt like I hated the doctor and I couldn’t understand why everyone else was saying that he was such a good doctor. My rage completely took over and blinded me to his good qualities-he actually is good at diagnosing patients and diagnosed me correctly. I didn’t know why I was so annoyed over the incident but it’s like when I feel angry, it just takes over and reason goes out the window. It’s like I know I’m being irrational now but I still feel that anger..I still feel that rage..and then I feel guilty and ashamed over feeling that rage and then I try to see the other person’s point of view but only like the next day or so, not at the actual time. I try to act very polite and co-operative outwardly but I’m sure that my facial expressions and body language give me away at times..portraying my real feelings on the matter.

    I have been to 5 therapists..and that alone makes me feel like such a failure! I feel like therapy starts off very well because I’m an open, honest person and the therapist will generally appreciate my honesty but then when the therapist challenges me on issues, I feel this anger build up. I hate being criticised because my father criticised me a lot as a child and I guess I link the two, even though there may not be an obvious correlation between the two. I have been told before that to “be more flexible”, to “take constructive criticism” but I feel like such comments are just patronising, insulting my intelligence..too simplistic really..not taking my point of view into consideration really and I feel like people are trying to domineer/control/ boss me around when they give me those type of comments. I still feel that anger, in spite of all my best efforts not spite of my efforts to be rational and try to co-operate and take their worthwhile points on board.

    There’s times when I’m just stubborn and I just won’t do what I’m told..I’ve always had that issue and it certainly was an issue in therapy so therapy would just end up going round and round in circles, with the therapist getting increasingly exasperated with me and with me feeling like I truly hated the therapist. I once told a therapist that she didn’t really care about me, that she just cared about the money that I was giving her. Now that I’m reading your posts, I can see all the transference and countertransference issues present but before, I wasn’t doing psycho dynamic therapy so those issues were never addressed, to what I feel is my detriment now really. I feel like I aimed that money accusation at the therapist because I didn’t really care about my father, just his money so I presumed that the therapist regarded me in the same light..she was being impatient with me like my father had been all the time so I feel like that might have triggered a similar kind of reaction or something, I’m not totally sure but I know that the two are interconnected… I think that when I got along with the therapist, I saw her as being similar to my mother but when she criticised me, I saw my father in her..I viewed her as being cold and unfeeling just as I had regarded my father as a child.

    My mother isn’t narcissistic so I hope my post on rage isn’t going off topic..I feel like my father may have borderline and narcissistic traits. I would say mainly borderline because he wasn’t confident enough to really charm anyone-he would appear to be very grumpy all the time whereas narcissists are able to disguise their moods better with superficial charm from what I’ve read.

    I just wanted to stop feeling angry but now that I’m reading your posts, I’m realising that there’s a lot of context to my rage..that there are all these layers to it and that maybe I should explore those layers more as opposed to being scared of the rage. I do feel afraid of my rage..I feel it has a very self-destructive quality so I generally try to repress it and pretend that it’s not there, try to distract myself all the time but inevitably it pops up again, sooner or later. I feel like my anger had a destructive quality when I was growing up because I would lash out at other people but I stopped that because I felt like it was having a detrimental effect on my relationships and also because I didn’t want to become like my father. I have a lot of self-loathing inside me and I realise now that it’s all rage..only it’s rage against myself. I realised today that when I feel angry, I know that I can’t direct my rage at other people because I’ll alienate them and then be all on my own and I don’t want that so I generally take my rage out on myself being self-critical to myself in my head, binging/restricting on food.. I used to be more impulsive and engage in binge drinking but I’ve stopped that now thankfully.

    I would like some advice on how to handle this rage. I was thinking of keeping a journal as a means of self-expression. What do you think of this idea? (I haven’t really discussed my rage in detail with anyone else because I feel like they would just judge me harshly over it but since it’s a regular enough topic here, I felt safe enough to mention it).

    1. Based on your description, a lot of your rage sounds defensive in nature — that is, it’s warding off something else (shame would be my bet). The account you gave of your reaction to your doctor’s “abrupt” remark sounds like an enraged response to something that felt humiliating. Just my guess.

      1. Yes I agree with you. The doctor told me to persist-I did feel humiliated by it. (I was suffering from depression at the time). I feel like people think that tough love will work but it just has the opposite effect on me-it makes me react stubbornly by digging my heels in even more because I’m not getting the attention and time to be listened to/heard that I really crave deep down. I think that the doctor saw me as a brat but deep down, I just wanted some reassurance that I would be okay because I was feeling so despondent.

        Thanks for answering my query, I appreciate it 🙂

  55. I can’t help but notice all the hate here. There are many different constructs which define forgiveness; in my eyes, forgiveness is about love/acceptance. It extinguishes hate.

    My childood was horrible. I’ve been deeply hurt by people suffering from narcissism. I used to hate them. It has been very freeing for me to let go of those feelings of hate. Forgiveness is a very personal choice, and I find the ‘forgiver’ benefits from the state of being as much as, or more, than the ‘forgivee’.

    It was Oprah Winfrey who said, “you cannot hate other people without hating yourself.”

  56. I’m glad I’m not alone and that someone professional has a mother who was a narcissist. Mine is still alive and kicking … the crap out of me. I choose to detach and not listen to demands and complaints. I’m trying to truly live my life with metastatic cancer. I still love her, but feel sadness that she does not have the ability to love.

  57. Just a quick note of thanks for this post, it brought tears to my eyes, very moving. Quite profound that you are learning to forgive and setting yourself truly free, my ultimate goal as well.

  58. my adoptive narc, bpd, mother is on her deathbed. My narc husband, in love with his narc mother, is soon to be my ex after 22 years. My daughter has some pretty big issues having been raised with me and her dad. I am doing what I can to take responsibility. I find it really hard to grieve what I missed while feeling guilt for what I did not have to give my daughter. But I want to change, to grow, to heal. I am repairing what ever I can to make things better for my daughter, and for me. I know I can not get those years back, and I also know, to have perspective, I gave far more good than what I was given. I say that very carefully and mindfully. Yet it does not really matter, because it is what it is now. This is a family system issue, not just a one person issue. Cinderella needs a saviour outside of herself like dorothy needs the wizard. I can see that in me as well, and a little more each day, I am trashing the glass slipper and the red shoes and returning home to myself.

    1. Spot on…summons up my feelings too…just that i have reconciliated once again with mine…wish me/us luck…

  59. Grief for the good husband…MIL is a narcissist hence the son…realised after a long arduous journey of life…still together.Grief is good.Am stronger

  60. Hello Joseph! I don’t usually do this… I usually just read these type of blogs and silently move on feeling better, or at least not feeling alone, as I have for many years been dealing with the same “situation”. But I need to vent, and I agree that we can’t always find a sense of forgiveness, or at least, it’s not the easiest thing to even deal with anymore, even with other people, after being abused psychologically by your own mother. I am naturally very merciful and forgiving, but these past 3 years, I’ve hardened up a bit too much, and I don’t like it, because I think my mother made me that way. I got married 5 years ago, to a wonderful man, and during the same time my mother was getting a divorce from her second husband. Her second husband, was and is a horrible person, a parasite, and merely married her for her money. I’ll go into details soon. After many years of being jerked around like some kind of a handbag, or dog on a leash, I finally decided to cut off all ties with my mother. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t forgive her, I did, countless times, over and over again, expecting an adult and parental figure to emerge, and change, at least to a tolerable point. None of that ever happened! I got married in 2007, engaged in 2005. As soon as that took place, my mother called my sister with a monotone voice as if someone had died, and told her I got engaged. My sister, the golden child called me, and I confirmed it was true. Soon after, the MADNESS began. I must have undone my mothers universe, “the natural order of things”, in her twisted perspective. She either must have sensed, her marriage was going to s***, or she was envious of me. I think it was more about my sister not being the center of attention, her golden child had dated for many years the same man. Her golden child was thin and got along with the stepfather. I was the loner, the one her struggled with fluctuating weight issues, not out of laziness, but I’m taller then both of them, an athlete, and I have just been diagnosed with leaky gut syndrome, which left me with low adrenals and gluten intolerance. I was constantly picked on, called fat, poked fun at, my mother even let the maid take shots at me! My mother even called me a lesbo when I played soccer and would ask me if I had a penis, because only boys played soccer. She came into my room and tore down a poster of The Spice Girls, after my stepfather said I had semi naked women on my wall. Really, the Spice Girls, I know right? She then tore down Queen Amidala and said it was her house, no posters. She terrified me! I was constantly accused of the lamest things, targeted by everyone she authorized. They ruined my soccer dreams, tae kwon do, and I even tried acting, but my sister hated waiting for me, and said I was embarrassing her, so they stopped taking me to that to. I got to the point where I just stayed in my room throughout my teens. Anxious to leave my safety zone. My stepfather used to crack open my door, since we had no locks! So ended up hiding in the closet to change into my pj’s. I have always been naturally brave, some have said brilliant, and comical, so I survived that time laughing it off. Somehow the fact that I had someone amazing, intelligent, wealthy and handsome, stole something away from my mother. She slowly started going through my belongings again my underwear, my meds, she started stealing my weightloss pills. She was constantly fighting with my stepfather, and when that happened, guess who became her punching bad again? She allowed everyone in her home to make comments about my fiance several times. Which didn’t bother me, because I was used to the crazy. He’s really the nicest person I’ve ever met, and he too has a narcissistic mother, so he has an iron mind for the most part. So come 2006, my mother throws me out, and she’s raging over her divorce. She threatened not to go. She threatened to stop payments on the wedding venue, I told her we could afford to pay off the rest. She was a raging volcano of hate, and threatened she wouldn’t show if my actual father would attend. I was too much of a pushover so I never sent my father an invitation. He was never around anyways, so I felt it wasn’t that bad. Plus it got my mother off my back. She suggested my stepfather walk me down, despite her hate for him too. So after the wedding. My husband and I sailed off into the sunset. But, my mistake was having pity on her, and letting her exploit my merciful nature. These almost 6yrs now, she’s did nothing but call me just to upset me. My husband, a truly good person almost had enough of the madness and saw my family was bats*** crazy. I tried hiding it from him. I would get a phone call, and all of a sudden, I would be in a sad, depressed or bad mood. I tried hanging out with her, and all she did was complain about her entire life. She went as far as talking about me with my sister again. She spread rumors, about me! After almost getting a divorce myself, since my husband had some type of an emotional deep depression, he wasn’t really projecting, a result of his own narcissistic parents and his dyslexia issues while working on his MA. She savored the fact, that he had left after a while. She was crying initially, but I believe it was because she kept saying I would get a divorce just like her over and over again. I don’t think it was for me, I think it was her conscience eating away at her. Everything worked out fine, and we resolved the communication issues we had. But as soon as I was back with my husband, she went crazy all over again and started distorting things I told her, even called a friend of mine multiple times. She threw us out of her home again around Christmas. I am never going back! And I do not forgive her. I almost feel as if I’ve sinned against myself at this point. I need to love myself more. You can only make others happy if you learn to value yourself first, and have some self respect.

  61. I enjoyed reading your article.
    There are some times now that my mother creeps into my mind- usually close to a big life event. Her negative self talk is in my head this week, as I prepare to receive my final year results. When I still lived at home I could tell my mother never enjoyed my successes. She avoided, sabotaged or ignored them. It actually physically hurt her to see me succeed. She always told me to leave, as soon as I could so she could get rid of me.
    She didn’t mean it of course- she really wanted to be the one to leave me. But she couldn’t, society wouldn’t let her. She hated society for this injustice! She hated how men could leave and she couldn’t.

    I am no contact for 1 year.
    I have tried it numerous times before, but this time it has stuck.
    Everytime something good happens, there she is to sabotage it.
    I just have accepted she won’t change. There is no accountability and she lies about the abuse she caused, even to me, and I was there!
    Someone like that is too toxic to be around.
    She fulfils no function in my life. There is no financial or emotional support, not even a birthday card! Why did I feel loyal for so long.

    I can’t say I forgive my mother, mostly I forgive myself.
    Also there were two things that I had to admit first.
    1. I was a victim of child abuse.
    I should not lie to myself or discount it. I have survived a terrible childhood with her.
    2. She does not know how to love.
    My mother was broken long before she conceived me.
    I have done my best, and moved far away. I have a new life and tell people I am an orphan.

    I am much happier and healthier without her, and truly hope she dies before I have children.
    She has tried to contact me, understanding that I am serious this time.
    Still then she said, you are loved. Not, I love you. You are loved.
    Yes, the horse and carrot trick.
    Not realising, I am loved all along, just never by her.

    I pity my sisters who are stuck with her, I have unburdened myself.

  62. I am curious if anyone can answer my question: What is the difference between an overprotective mother and a narcissistic mother? Both are control freaks and can be abusive. I suppose the over-protective mother has better motives but both are suffocating and do not want you to grow up. Not only that but it seems like both only want you to be what they think you should be, rather than who you really are. Maybe the better question would be are there any differences in the effect on children, even though the motives are different? My mother’s overprotectiveness and critisicms certainly did not convey love.

    1. Mary, I think you’ve answered your own questions. You’re right to focus on the issue of separateness — can either mother see you for who you really are and help you to grow up as a distinct person rather than the person they need you to be.

  63. Joseph, I really enjoyed reading this article. It is sad that abuse in the court system can only be recognized in the physical form. I grew up with a mother who is extremely narcissistic and childish when it comes to me living my own life. I never felt like she really loved me. She had no respect for me as a seperate person, and i never felt like she was really proud of me for anything i ever accomplished. Almost jealous in a way. It’s affected my relationships, my job, and my school. I can’t escape her jealousy towards my success, but I also can’t enjoy any success in my life. Anytime I speak up about how it’s harmed my OWN life, my family thinks I’m betraying them. I read an article recently that really helped me out on this subject. Here’s the article, it’s definitely similar and just as informative:

  64. I’ve found this to be an interesting read. My youngest son, the product of my marriage to a narcissist (which I’m now in the process of getting out of) accuses me of being a narcissistic mother. However, this only came up over the last six to seven months. It was at this time, I became completely aware of what my STBE was doing to me in the form of emotional and mental abuse and when I think he started working to turn my son against me. See, I’d figured him out so he needed to discard me to move on to his next victim.

    Yes, I can be sarcastic. Yes, I could be hard on my kids when I felt they were failing classes at school because they weren’t doing their homework or studying. But they always knew they could count on me (and they all told me so at one time or another) while they knew they couldn’t count of their father (and they all told me so at one time or another). They also knew my love for them was unconditional.

    When each of my sons (three of them) were in Basic Training, and ever before they left for the military, I made sure each of them understood my love for them wasn’t predicated on them “making me proud of them”. See, we come from a military background and all of them believed they needed to do this. I tried to tell each of them they didn’t, that they needed to follow their own path, not one they believed was laid out for them through destiny.

    When each of them left, I snuck a letter into their suitcases for them to find later. In them I outlined what made the great, in my mind and heart, and to enforce to them that they always had a place in my home and my heart, no matter where they ended up in life. There were also “Life lessons I didn’t have time to teach you or tell you about” in there, and each letter was about three or four pages long, too.

    My youngest wrote me from Basic Training and said – I just want you to be proud of me. When I wrote him back, I addressed this line and told him – whether you’re a soldier, a CEO or flipping burgers at McDonald’s, I’ll always be proud of you because of who you are , a kind, thoughtful, caring and loving person who cares about his fellow man, not because of what you are.

    I’ve discussed heavily with two different therapists about this accusation of me being a narcissist. Am I a Narcissist and don’t see it? Do I need to get help for this? Should I be talking to someone who specializes in these types of disorders?

    Both of them told me pretty much the same thing – just the fact you’re worried about it and asking if you should get help means you’re not. The fact that you’re concerned about your effect on your child tells me you’re not.

    Are they right? Am I okay? This is most confusing part to me because my STBE was such an uninvolved father, beyond providing a paycheck, keeping us all living on the fringes of his life, and requiring we keep him on the fringes of ours. I was both mother and father to them for so long and was the one they relied on for pretty much everything. However, the STBE undermined me at every turn. If I punished them for something, he’d tell them to ignore me, with a roll of his eyes and “You know how your mom can be”.

    I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this. AM I a narcissist?

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