Acceptance, The First Step Toward Healing For Children Of Narcissistic Mothers

A narcissistic mother can be described with some or all of the following traits:

  • A grandiose sense of entitlement
  • Self-involved
  • Critical of you and your accomplishments
  • Plays the victim
  • Values you for what you do rather than who you are 
  • Puts her own needs before yours
  • Has a lack of empathy and often denies her own or your feelings
  • Is hyper-focused on her appearance or the way things look to others rather than how things feel
  • Is competitive, and puts your successes down
  • Over-involved or ignoring

Children of narcissistic mothers have a special set of experiences and feelings to process and overcome. Processing feelings in therapy is the hardest part and one that most people would prefer to skip over. Feeling pain is no fun. Processing feelings involves talking about the trauma while simultaneously feeling the associated feelings. Re-telling the story without feeling is not the same as processing. During traumatic events people usually shut their feelings off in order to survive the incident.  This is a way to protect yourself.  But, the awful truth is, processing your feelings is necessary in order to grieve; otherwise the feelings harden and stay stuck, only to show up later. 

Processing or grieving is different than merely describing or telling your story.  In order to grieve first you have stop denying reality and begin accepting the truth. Accept that your mother lacks the capacity to offer the love and nurturing you need.  This is a painful first step.  It is easy to get lulled by denial.  We don’t want to accept painful truths because with the painful truth comes the awful feelings. The acceptance process may take a significant amount of time.  Many people wade in and out of this area for years.  At times feeling more at peace with the reality of their mother’s limitations, other times being hopeful that this time, things will be different.  Maybe even believing that if you do something just right, it will make everything better. Daughters of narcissistic mothers can easily get pacified with gifts and material gestures only to find that the emptiness they feel in the relationship remains.  Unfortunately, gifts only offer temporary relief.

The truth is you can’t change other people.  You can only change yourself.  This is not news. You can find this type of wisdom through self-help materials and articles on-line.  But reading it and intellectually understanding the concept and really experiencing the feelings that go with this are two different things. Learning that you cannot change your mother comes with profound feelings of hopelessness and loss. It is a period of grieving.  Some may feel guilty, damaged, flawed or weak.  Perhaps weak for wanting so bad or weak for not being able to change the situation.  But think of it this way, you would not be angry with a crying baby because it was hungry.  You would not blame the baby for not being able to get it’s own food.

With the acceptance that you cannot change your mother or past circumstances comes hope. Working through acceptance is treacherous, but on the other side can be room for you to finally learn more about yourself, your needs and discover the things that make you happy. A word of caution though, accepting that your mother will not ever be what you wanted her to be does not mean that you will be able to get these needs met in other relationships.  This is not to say that we don’t have needs that get fulfilled in other healthy romantic and personal relationships, that is certainly a component to fulfilling and satisfying relationships, but you cannot get your maternal needs met.  You may try, but ultimately, it is not the way toward healing.    

Moving forward will ultimately rest on your shoulders. This is also an infuriating experience.  You may certainly get help and clarity from friends and definitely from a trained therapist, but the fundamental healing will happen inside of you, and only you.  Part of this process involves making your own needs a priority. Taking care of yourself, not over extending, learning to say no and learning to say yes to circumstances that prioritize your needs.  There are all sorts of ways to talk yourself out of needing things for yourself, but try to move past them.  You deserve time that is just for you and that will contribute to your growth. Daughters of narcissistic mothers have been well trained to put other’s needs first.  Putting your own needs first may feel incredibly uncomfortable.  Feel the discomfort.  Let it wash over you and then wash off. You need emotional attention, just like the hungry baby not only needs food, but love too. You have been starving for a long time and deprivation takes its toll. Acceptance is the prerequisite for moving forward.


Dear parents of transgender youth...

In the wake of the Orlando massacre many people, including politicians and media heads are saying that discussing LGBT issues is an irresponsible act of politicizing and exploitation. But the truth is, the Orlando shooting is an integral part of a very important political issue. LGBT rights and the coinciding discrimination that is consistently disregarded, have always been political, and now is no different. Sadly it is only a matter of time before the horrible massacre will become yesterday’s news. Soon enough your Twitter feed will settle down and you will have deleted a few more insensitive “friends” from your Facebook account. But right now, due to heartbreaking circumstances, this is a unique moment. A moment where people who don’t regularly consider LGBT issues might be paying attention – for a second. Seize this moment and politicize, lobby, debate and discuss. The air is ripe for raising awareness about your child’s right to lead a happy, free and unencumbered life. Right now it’s easy to get lost in the anger and succumb to the overwhelming sadness. Be kind to yourself but also stay engaged. It is in moments of shared vulnerability that people have more capacity to feel deeply and even change their minds. You can take part in this.

The Leadership Lab, part of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, laid the groundwork and created a model for engagement that helps people understand and support LGBT rights, specifically transgender rights. Their research found that vulnerable, honest and connected interactions with people who opposed LGBT rights, led to a shift in perception toward transgender individuals. For some, it even led to a complete change of heart. Summarized below are three core components you can use to have these critical conversations, (and the full report is right here).

 1. Build Rapport

This needs to be a real conversation where both people are willing to be open about each other’s perspective. Stay confident in your stance. Be willing to hear the other person’s perspective. Focus on their lived experience rather than their opinion. This may be challenging but will create rapport and an opportunity to take the conversation to the next level.

2. Focus on real lived experiences through listening and curiosity

Sharing real lived experiences is an inroad to connection, vulnerability and change. Not all people have real lived experience with transgender individuals. They may be able to draw on experiences with Lesbian or Gay individuals. If not, they have at the very least experienced being judged for who they are in some capacity. When individuals can connect with others and be curious about each other’s experience, it creates empathy, self-reflection and an opportunity to challenge thinking, dispel myths and gain wisdom.

3. Be vulnerable and share your own stories

Possibly the most important component, share your own story in an open and non-defensive way. Share your experience of being judged and misunderstood, gender related or not. Shared moments awaken self-reflection and carry opportunities for empathic connection.  

However, it is important to note that it is never a good idea to put yourself in a physically or emotionally dangerous situation. If you don’t feel safe in the midst of a conversation, it is perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself.

Perhaps now more than ever you will need to be a strong advocate for your child. Advocate loudly or quietly, whatever suits your personality and path, as long as you advocate. Be the army behind your child. Be the eyes. Be the ears. Be the voice. Be the razor wire. Be the soft place to land. Be the bullhorn. Be the Tweet. Be the backbone. Be the Facebook comment. Be the candlelight vigil. And then ask your child what else they need you to be.

Let's NOT Agree To Disagree

What happens when you outgrow a relationship? What happens when you outgrow a long and, until now, solid relationship? What happens when the relationship is one you’ve been involved in, trusted, and relied on for decades?  What if the relationship has survived ups and downs and feels like home? It is a relationship that holds your secrets, knows your insecurities, and is filled with good memories, and bad.  It is safe.  It is known.  And it is familiar.  Then, something happens, and suddenly it’s not those things anymore.  Pain, confusion and loss swirl around together to press hard and ruthlessly on your heart.  And worst of all, what if this relationship is the relationship with your best friend?

How does this happen?

The variety of ways a friendship can go awry seems limitless.  There are a handful of reasons that friendships can end that are common and benign.  Distance is often a noted one, “we just drifted apart...” Marriage and children can frequently come between close friendships, “she just doesn’t have time anymore...” Maybe the friend’s partner is a problem, “I can’t stand to be around her.  She is such a snob!”  Some friends are too needy, some are too cold, some are too uptight and others are just so relaxed, they don’t seem to care. So once a friendship has endured all of these dynamics and has proven to be sturdy, you might assume the relationship can weather just about anything,  But that’s not always the case.  How is it that something that once felt so good can become something that feels so bad?

One infrequently noted reason a friendship can go awry, is personal growth.  If we’re lucky, we mature in big and small ways throughout our life, and also go through tremendous periods of personal growth.  This typically results in change. Our thinking changes.  Our way of relating changes.  Usually this is because we have come to realize that our previous way of relating wasn’t good for us.  With this change comes a change in the way we interact with others.  This can be very disruptive within a friendship that has long been operating under a certain set of unconscious pretenses. The dynamic that worked well in the past, may not work so well in the future.  If the friendship can survive this, it has the potential to blossom into something even more beautiful than it was before.

Is repair possible?     

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know.” This is at the crux of what holds a friendship together.  When the going gets tough, does the friendship include the courage to dig in, stand by, and shine the light into the dark corners? Or, will it be met with a limit of willingness and capacity for growth and change?  Sometimes it is the willingness from you or your friend to do something, or it is the willingness to think in a different way, or a willingness to stand up for you, or to stand up to you.  Most importantly, it calls for a willingness to stay engaged. How do you stay in close contact with a dear friend when there is a difference of opinion, a disagreement, or worse, a wounding?  How do you not back away, or take the easy way out by saying, “let’s just agree to disagree”?  How do you stay in the hard place, listen fiercely with an open heart and focused attention, until both of you can see a little bit more than was seen before, providing even more space in the relationship?  It takes work.  

All relationships take work. But, sometimes people assume friendships should be easy. Now to be clear, there is value in agreeing to disagree.  But not at the first sign of conflict. Each person should have the opportunity to speak and be heard, thoroughly.  If each person has this opportunity, then usually a third position is created.  This third position lies in between you and your friend.  It’s not about being wrong or right, which is often the case when people feel the need to agree to disagree.  Instead, it’s about truly considering each other’s position.

Typically, this kind of fighting to keep a relationship alive and thriving is expected in romantic partnerships. For some reason, friendships don’t always get the same level of attention and devotion. Perhaps, that is because there can be something a little embarrassing or shameful about admitting that you’re having a fight with your best friend. It can appear juvenile and adolescent.  On the other hand, having a fight with your significant other is just what happens in adult relationships.  But the truth is, friendships are easily as impactful as romantic relationships.  And, in many cases, even more so.  Friendships can span a lifetime, across multiple romantic relationships, cities, states, health and a series of life transitions and hardships.  Friendships are not something to take lightly or treat with frivolity. They are like precious flowers that should be tended to with thoughtful care.

Now what?       

So if these relationships don’t make it, or never get to the part where there is mutual growth and understanding, does it mean that it was never there in the first place? Does it mean that all the significance that it once held was just a delusion? Was it a fantasy that was created because it was what you needed? How do you mourn this type of break up? How do you catalog something that has left an imprint on your heart? Do you never give up and instead hold out hope that in time, things might be different? There are so many possibilities.  All the while, the pain, confusion and loss continue to swirl around and press ruthlessly on your heart.  The only solid answer I continue to come back to with regard to this question is:  Don’t shrink. Don’t pretend that it’s not a big deal. Don’t just keep going and act as though everything is fine.  Go toward the very feeling you are trying to avoid.  Get to know it intimately until it doesn’t feel so sharp and pointed.  In this process, there will be tremendous growth, whether you are able to do this with your best friend, or all on your own.  And if you do go separate ways, it does not change the fact that at one point you were both standing side by side.  And, it was good.