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.