“Love without sacrifice is like theft”
~Nassim Nicholas Taleb
After forty years on this earth, I made a discovery that tied all the insanity of my life together with a big beautiful bow. It sounds incredible, yet it was always there for me to discover. I just never took the opportunity to search out the truth: My mother is a narcissist. There is no other explanation for her behavior.
From as early as I can remember, I realized that my mother would not allow boundaries to separate us. In fact, I don’t believe that my mother saw me as a separate person, but rather as an extension of herself. It was as though with her instruction, I would become whatever it was that she couldn’t but wanted to be.
Early on, my mother used specific tactics to keep me bound to her. Using tactics such as infantalisation, my mother made me feel as though I would never be able to manage in the real world by telling me how inept I was. At the same time, she stressed how very lucky I was to have a mother who was highly capable of running my life, so to speak. She created a co-dependent relationship, and since I was a child at its conception, I had very little to say in the matter.
The boundaries that she voided were sacred to me as I became a teenager. She read my diary, listened in on my telephone conversations, and gossiped to my friends about intimate tidbits of my life that I would rather they not have known, such as my current menstruation or that I had a crush on a certain boy. As I grew older and began having long-term relationships, my mother interfered there as well by berating my boyfriend in every conversation we had (“He’s not good enough for you!”) or inquiring about my sex life with my husband (“Does he want to have sex with you all of the time?”)
The very worst tactic that my mother employed on me as a child, teen, and young adult was “gaslighting.” She still attempts to use this tactic to this very day, but my awareness of it has kept me from her lengthy reach. My mother constantly denied my perceptions of reality by brushing them off as being imaginary. For instance, she would tell me something as a fact, but then insist later that she never said it. It wasn’t that she merely denied the truth. It was the implication of my insanity for ever concocting such an elaborate farce when I was simply restating her very words. A narcissist will never own up to the truth, even when it is staring her in the face.
When she was around other people, she would fabricate stories about past events, then she would look at me and say, “You remember that, don’t you?” Her insistence bore more than just a grain of forewarning that if I did not agree, she would chide me right there in front of whomever her victim was. Of course, I wouldn’t have remembered, but I would curiously agree with her nearly every time. I spent a tremendous amount of time wracking my brain and second guessing myself. Maybe I should remember? When I couldn’t, I wondered if I was losing my mind, especially after she repeated the fantasy over and over again to whomever would listen. It was if she re-wrote history, and I had no choice but to declare it as fact along with her or be the subject of extreme animadversion by her.
The choice was taken from me when I attempted to confront her on many occasions with the truth. Her retort was usually to comment on my vivid imagination with a brush-off. Her inference to my “fantasizing a different reality” again sent me to contemplate my own sanity. She wove a new tapestry of my life that I felt obligated to live. My “true self” was never going to be able to make it without her. I was inept, incompetent, and an all around complete failure. I became the persona she created for me. When I was successful, that further substantiated her competence and my incapability to be the real me. The success was attributed to her influence by us both.
During my forty plus years on this earth, there were spans of several years when I had could no longer bear her, so I decided to have no contact with her whatsoever. When this happened, at first, she called me over and over and over again. One particular day, I logged fifty-four calls from her until she finally stopped. When she could, she tried to punish me by bullying. Some examples of this are leaving threatening messages on my answering machine and telling lies about me to other family members and friends to make her claim of me abusing her appear legitimate. She would spin fantastical stories about the horrendously negative feelings that other family members and friends have expressed to her regarding my behavior of silence toward her. Of course, these were all lies I discovered in the end, but when she said them, I believed her. In fact, I spent a lifetime of believing her lies when time after time the truth was there, dangling in front of me, screaming at me, “Look, you fool! Here I am!”
When the bullying tactic didn’t work, she stalked me by coming to my house unannounced, relentlessly knocking on my door, and waiting in the parking lot near my car at my place of employment. She began buying me clothes and having them sent to my house. She would find my weakness and then somehow, rescue me from it. She does this for two reasons. One is the ammunition she is gathering to use against me later in life (“After every thing I’ve done for you…”) She also becomes my savior (“I deprived myself of the things I needed for you.”) And why? So all her friends will see how she, my creator, saved my life from my own inabilities… again.
Why, then, did I allow myself to be sucked back in by her vacuum of insanity? Simple. I was the chosen one. In a family with a narcissistic parent, one of the children is usually the chosen one. This causes for strife and resentment from siblings, and a narcissist (like my mother) feeds off this triangulation. Pitting siblings against each other so that they each will turn to the narcissist for support, advice, and advocacy is a tactic that keeps each child just where she wants them to be: looking to her for all the answers so that she can continue to be the center of the universe and the master manipulator of all.
The chosen one’s life seems a bit cushy compared to the treatment his or her siblings endured during childhood (they were basically ignored most of the time), but the chosen one pays the biggest price in the long-run. This child is the one who sustains the most manipulation and control from the narcissistic parent. In my family, its plausibility lies in the fact that the brunt of my mother’s master plan was crafted around me. In my family, being chosen was hardly my choice. It was as if my mother put all her eggs in my basket, and I was going to be everything she dreamed I would be. The trouble was I wanted to be everything I dreamed I would be. Those visions were in direct contrast, but she never seemed to consider that possibility, nor did she bother to inquire.
All the time I suffered through depression, thoughts of suicide, and an eating disorder, I thought that there was something terribly wrong with me. And there was. It was my mother. From this upbringing with a narcissistic parent, I have endured:
- extreme difficulty setting boundaries
- being overly fearful of authority figures
- being overly fearful of angry people
- being overly concerned about others’ opinions
- extreme feelings of being unworthy
- extreme difficulty in establishing healthy relationships
- being overly fearful of becoming narcissistic
- an obvious self-care deficit
These are problems that I still encounter on a daily basis, but there is good news.
Even though my mother decided to extend herself through me, I decided to take back my life. This was not in her plan, and it threw her into a heavy state of confusion. She scrambled to regain control. She brought her tactics out in full force. Once I learned how to take back my life, I became in control of my own thoughts, my own actions, my own history and future. I no longer lived in self-hatred and shame, but rather learned to look at my accomplishments in their true light. In the past, my mother had taken credit for everything I had done that was worthy in her eyes. As for mistakes, quite the opposite occurred; she had abandoned any responsibility for my failures. In the end, I claimed both as my own, and learned to grow from my mistakes as well as grow from my accomplishments.
A simple fact was when I did not accept the accolades for a job well done, then I was not able to nurture my self-esteem. I felt stagnant and dependent on my mother even for that basic need. Since her compliments were very sparse, I rarely felt the true effects of my talent, intellect, and even graciousness. For so long, I felt that I needed to be “fixed,” but reprogramming is what has fueled my journey to healing.
Through awareness and understanding, I have rebuilt my life and learned to be my true self, the one I was born to be. I have also built a different relationship with my mother: one where I am in the driver’s seat. It isn’t easy, and I still have a long journey ahead of me, but one day, I will shed all of the effects of a narcissistic upbringing. Until that day, I am still on my journey of breaking down instead of mending the wall that has closed me in.
- Dear Narcissist (Aka the father) (behindthemaskofabuse.com)
- Dear Narcissists Wife (Aka the mother) (behindthemaskofabuse.com)
- How do I get over my narcissistic parent? (ask.metafilter.com)