Honor Thy Narcissistic Mother: the 4th Commandment and Going “No Contact”


Two weeks ago I was crawling into bed when my phone pinged with a text from my childhood friend, Serina. Little emoji party horns were all over it, with an invitation. Her father was turning 90. Would my family celebrate with them?  Her family was the only family we knew when I was growing up, the weekend-in-the-cabin family, the camping family, the chicken curry family (her dad is Pakistani), the family that came over for Thanksgiving dinner. There was one problem:  my mother would be there.

In May 2014, I decided to go “No Contact” with my narcissistic mother. It was after my housewarming party, where she ignored me except to insult me, and later when I confronted her, gaslighted me.  Her snide comment that day had not been the pinnacle of her cruelty. The most cruel? Years ago when I told her I was finally pregnant with a long awaited  3rd child and she put her head in her hands and sighed, “Oh no. . . .”  Or 6 weeks later when I miscarried that child and she said nothing.

Or perhaps when my father — they had been divorced some 30 years — was in ICU, the beginning of his final illness, and I asked my mother if she could take a few vacation days to watch my children so that I could be at his bedside. She said, “I’m saving my vacation days for his funeral.”

My mother is a master generator of the lesser, Chinese-water-torture variety of insults:  “I was looking at your wedding picture the other day and you both have gotten so old” or the year we took her to Thanksgiving dinner at The Cottage in Flagstaff and she informed me it was time to start my cosmetic procedures — “You suddenly have so many crow’s feet.” Or taking the kids swimming at her house — “This family is so fat.” She stormed out of my baby daughter’s baptism because she did not like her assigned pew.

For years, when seeking help from counselors and priests after she had emotionally eviscerated me again, when I would start with, “Well, on Christmas morning. . . ” I would be brusquely confronted, “Why was she there?! Why did you invite her?!” Healthy, spiritual people told me repeatedly that I needed to emotionally emancipate myself.

It took until this past May, after the housewarming.  Perhaps it was because I realized that if my mother could not share in my joy at the apex of my life, when I am in my 40’s, in a long, happy marriage, with a new home and healthy, almost-grown children, she never, ever would.

Why hadn’t I gone “No Contact” sooner? Well, guilt.  And the 4th Commandment: Honor thy Father and thy Mother.  Here’s how the 4th commandment (the 5th in Protestantism) doesn’t apply to your narcissistic mother.

oldcouple

1. The 4th Commandment Presumes that Parents Love God and their Children.

Catholic psychologist Dr. Raymond Richmond writes, “What is the purpose of honoring our fathers and mothers? Well, by honoring them we make it possible to learn from them, so as to acquire their wisdom and their love for God. This therefore shows that the assumption made in the commandment about honoring parents is that fathers and mothers love God, are living holy lives, and care for their children and want their good. So what happens when parents don’t really want the good of their children? What happens when parents constantly criticize their children, abuse them, and essentially stifle any good that the children could achieve? . . . Well, parents such as this don’t love their children because they don’t love God either. These parents have broken the first commandment, and, to their children, that makes them enemies, not parents.”

And we don’t honor enemies.  We pray for them.  (Matthew 5:44)

2. Setting Healthy Boundaries is Not a Sin.

Early in my marriage I decided my mother did not actually need a key to my house. Then I decided it would be respectful if she called before landing on my doorstep. I asked that my children not be in the same room with her unstable rescue dog or her guns. Each of these boundaries was met by my mother with indignation.

Gail Meyers, writer and daughter of a narcissistic mother, writes,

“. . . as adults we need to clearly define what honor is and what it is not. Setting healthy boundaries is not dishonoring your mother. Allowing her to continue abusing you is not honoring your mother. Setting a boundary with your mother regarding your marriage and children is not dishonoring your mother.”                                                                                    Narcissistic Abuse

3. God is Love.

The Great Commandment, Love Thy Neighbor, conspires with the 4th Commandment to mire the child of a narcissist in confusion. Loving a toxic parent, behaving in a loving way while preserving one’s dignity, is complicated business. Dr. Richmond writes, “if a parent loves neither God nor her child, the child need not honor him.” But we cannot be released from love.

Consider I Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.     I Cor. 13: 4-7

Children of narcissists are a priori wracked with self-doubt. If you also happen to be a Christian, these verses from First Corinthians set a very high bar, against which we constantly measure ourselves. But let us put the onus of I Corinthians 13 onto the narcissistic parent. Juxtapose Love is patient, is kind, is not jealous, is not arrogant, it rejoices in the truth against this list of Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers. 

God loves us. He tells us in the Psalms that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Our narcissistic mothers do not.

scapegoat

“A narcissistic mother chronically avoids personal responsibility and accountability, thus the scapegoat child. The scapegoat is the truth-teller in the midst of the great pretender’s web of secrets, lies and pretense.”                   –Gail Meyers

How did the party go?  I tried to remain on opposite sides of the room from my mother. I avoided eye contact.  After twenty years of practice, my husband and I are adept at a well-choreographed dance of self-preservation in which he never leaves me alone in a room with her.

Champagne was flowing and there was a bounteous spread of Indian food. Dr. Ishaq, the guest of honor, gave a speech at dinner full of nostalgia and gratitude.  His eight-year-old granddaughter—daughter of Serina’s brother, under whose bed we put a walkie talkie in 1980 while he was sleeping, and squawked “Redrum! Redrum!”, which instead of him waking in terror succeeded in waking up Dr. and Mrs. Ishaq across the hall and Serina and I getting in BIG trouble—wrote Dr. Ishaq a poem about his “Science Heart.” He is a retired microbiologist. I’m not often charmed by children other than my own, but this little poem about her grandfather’s hands on her shoulders as she looked through a microscope did me in.

When I was ten, speeding down a hill on a bicycle while trying to hang on to the handlebars and a tennis racquet, I took a terrible fall,  going head over heels onto the asphalt. I had to limp home in a bloody mess.  We went to the Ishaqs’ for dinner that night. It was there I noticed that I was bleeding through the front of my shorts. Some bicycle part or other, a pedal, maybe, had sliced into my nether-regions. That night, Dr. Ishaq, to my utmost 10-year-old humiliation, cleaned me up, and patched my privates back together with a butterfly bandage— one of those childhood incidents you hope all have forgotten. Well, my mother included this story at the end of the festivities, thanking Dr. Ishaq. I mean, well, yes, thank you Dr. Ishaq. Can we not mention this? I presumed she put this in the card as well . . .Serina assures me she did not.

My friend, Serina, and I chatted as the night wore on; she mentioned the Happy Hours she often attended with her mother and my mother.  “I was never invited to those.” Silence. She also mentioned a trip to Las Vegas.  Nope, not invited to that either.  Here began the sinking, the reminder that my mother is unkind, exclusive, that normal mothers take their daughters to lunches and pedicures and movies and mother-daughter trips.  My mother does these things, but with other women’s daughters. This is why, for me, even the slightest contact, as slight as two strangers not speaking at a mutual friend’s party, is too much.

Wintery Day at Northern State Hospital Barns
© Dana @Flickr “Wintery Day at Northern State Hospital Barns”

Women at the birthday party mentioned last month’s Halloween post . Serina had her own story about that creepy house—a barn that was always unseasonably cold and a cement hole in the floor we played in.  And then my mother chimed in, “You know, the previous owner had committed suicide there. The realtor told us.”  Now,  therein lies the conundrum with a narcissistic mother.  That bit of unfortunate information made sense, given the house and its ambiance, but also for a moment, her salacious morsel made her the center of attention at a party.  And so it goes with narcissists; the story likely isn’t true.

If I had to break my “No Contact” rule for a few hours, this happy party with Dr. Ishaq and his family was a good reason to do it. But the price I paid was leaving the party in a state of uncertainty and sadness and that wobbly, abandoned, motherless feeling,  that child-of-a-narcissist feeling. God has made me for better things.

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54 thoughts on “Honor Thy Narcissistic Mother: the 4th Commandment and Going “No Contact”

  1. Siobhan Ulreich-Power

    Shocking that she wouldn’t want to spend time with such an interesting, kind person. Her loss. I initially was going to comment with many @$#% but decided to take the high road. I will do lunch, movies, pedicures with you anytime! I appreciate you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Donna

      Finally learned at the age of 50 that my mother isn’t so unique that no one else could possibly understand. There is actually a term for people like her. How dumb that I thought therapy was pointless because I thought, who could possibly understand, they’d have to be a fly on the wall to see what absolutely every conversation turns into. With my mum, the game is always on. Anything I say she either didn’t hear me so I have to repeat it, or didnt understand so repeat, or flat out ignores me or sighs while I talk because I’m such a bother to listen to, or argue. That’s her favourite. Pick a fight about anything. Turn stories around from the past and bring things up out of thin air. Oh ya, that’s fun for her. So I love the last paragraph summary of always walking away feeling wobbly, abandoned and motherless. Excellent words to describe the following 2 weeks it takes to get her out of my mind after every phone call. I’m just trying to keep in touch with my 83 year old mother. It shouldn’t always be a game but her love for me comes in the way that she loves to hate me. She doesn’t want me to leave her but she doesn’t want things to get better. It’s ruined my self confidence. I have her voice in my head. I try to lay down boundaries, it still comes in some other way. I’m so done, yet I think of calling her every day. It’s brutal.

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  2. Kris

    This all sounds absolutely too much like someone I know (absolutely not my mother, thankfully). Reading your blog lit a light bulb about a really toxic relationship and one of the reasons. Helpful knowing there are people out there who “get it,” although I’d prefer none of us have to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have been condemned as “spewing evil” by writing the truth about my mother. Writing about abuse is about your post: bulbs going off, letting people know they aren’t alone, finding the path to healing. Thanks so much for sharing.

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      1. Misty, I still love you and your family. And I continue to pray that God will deal with the hearts and minds of both you and your mother. You are both survivors in your own way. I know my comments are censored but it pains me greatly to read these blogs about my sister, and that you do not have one positive thing to say about her as your mother. My sister is not perfect, she says inappropriate things but who doesn’t. I find that you and your mother both take things people say way too seriously. I do completely understand that you need to set boundaries with your mother, I really do get that, but move on. Don’t let this consume you, life is too short.

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      2. Trying to practice an authentic Christianity with an abusive parent is a learning process. Many abusers hide behind the 4th Commandment. I am trying to help others who are struggling. I, and others, have spent a lifetime trying to find the balance, and last May I did move on. That was the point of the post. You are a very loving person, and I understand this is hard for you.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I did not mean to ‘like’ your aunt’s comment, I wanted to reply to it. Truth tellers in the family always risk exile from the tribe. But that is how they are authentic, honest, sane, and break the cycle of abuse. I commend you Misty. There will always be those who seek to silence you with every manner of psychological and religious compulsion. Do not be intimidated.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Liz Clark

    I think it takes a lot of courage to survive this kind of childhood. Choosing to leave it for a healthy & loving family life seems like emigrating to a country in which you don’t know the language or the customs. I hardly know you but I am so proud of you! You did it! You’re doing it — every day!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I met your mother before I met you. We met at church, was happy to find a friend since I had just moved to Arizona. Through the years it has been very difficult to keep her friendship. I pity her to lose a lovely daughter, but I am more sorry for you, Misty. Don’t let her martyr you further. You have a swell family and friends, that’s all you need. And I will be your mother next time I cross the pond.

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  5. This fairly accurately describes my mother and our relationship as well. I finally emotionally emancipated myself from her. After some years, I have found compassion for her but still hold my boundaries strong. Best to you

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  6. Clare W

    The weird thing about narcissism is how these people can operate in the world, how the behavior gets passed by and no one but the victim realizes it. These relationships have marked much of my life and I so appreciate the way you can verbalize the oddity of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lisa

    i’m sorry you left the party feeling bad. I really enjoyed seeing you again and catching up with your family. Your children are talented, kind-hearted and sweet! I continue to enjoy your blog.

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    1. I enjoyed the party very much and I enjoyed seeing you and your beautiful children. It was a very happy time for me; Ishaq and Ann, and Serina and Rashid, played a huge role in my childhood. It would have been much lonelier without them. All that love and all those memories made it a beautiful evening and I am very grateful to have been invited. ❤ ❤ ❤

      Like

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  10. Thank you for articulating these thoughts so well. It is so hard to put them out there for the world to see. Congratulations on being true to yourself and your family and taking action in your own life for your own mental and emotional health and well being.

    My mother enabled my alcoholic step-father for 30 years- after abandoning me with my previous step-father and divorcing him for this new gem. As an adult, I stopped drinking alcohol while raising my family, which basically meant we rarely ever saw them again. Which was a bit awkward since our homes are across the street from one another. She spent 30 years discrediting and criticizing me because, as the Gail Meyers (wonderful) quote suggests, I was the one person, her only child, who knew the secrets of our dysfunctional family, and could unravel all of the tales she wove about how perfect our family was for everyone else to see.

    Now that I’m 46, she is now separated from her husband (sort of, he’s in recovery 2000 miles away for the rest of his life likely), and she’s had a dramatic health scare. Sadly, she would now like to have a relationship with me. This is very sad for me, because she has never fostered a bond and has only fostered animosity and pain in my life. I have no patience or desire to be close to her. I can be cordial and spend time with her, but there is no closeness. I know this is sad for her too but it simply is what life has left us with.

    I’m so sorry to ramble here. But I would like to see you take some knowledge from your mother and know that it is of value. Through whatever experiences made her who she is, she has taught you much, as my mother has me, to NOT be the kind of parent she has been. My family has benefited tremendously from this as we are extremely close with our adult children. I hope these challenges can continue to inform your vision of family and will see you through as your children and your marriage grow. Thanks again!

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    1. Thank you for rambling! I enjoy hearing everyone’s experience and am grateful for your post. I’m your age; there is something freeing about getting to this point in life and deciding how to live the rest of it. Thanks for sharing.

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  11. As I was reading I kept stopping excitedly, as if I just discovered gold, to share with hubby. So much of your writing rings true about my mother. I divorced her three years ago, but I never did research into this issue, and I had no clue others experienced these same set of “symptoms”. It is so wonderful to read the same thoughts I’ve had. For instance, why other mothers take their daughters shopping, but mine didn’t. I came from a Christian household (I still love Jesus very much), and I never quite knew how to explain why “honor thy father and mother” didn’t quite apply to my mother in the way I was taught. You gave the best explanation that I have ever heard. Thank you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. KJ

    Thank you for this. This is not my own experience with my parents, but I have a dear friend who just recently set a (pretty mild, all things considered) boundary with her father and his response was to immediately heap multiple lies and abuses about her character and parenting upon her and to cut off contact. (I am glad HE did this, although I don’t expect he will allow himself the loss of his taste for trying to needle her for ever. Hopefully by the time he tries to weasel his way back in so he can hurt her more, she will have good resolve to not open the door again.) In our discussions she has struggled a lot with how to be authentically Catholic and following our church’s teaching on love, forgiveness, the 4th commandment, but also in not having to live with abusive behavior for herself and for her children. I am so happy to have this blog post to pass on to others who might find the ring of truth in it. I am very sorry for your loss in growing up without a true mother figure in your life.

    Like

    1. Narcissistic parents train us to give them total control. Any boundary we set, however small or sensible, is a threat to their absolute power. Courage to your friend. It is a constant tightrope walk trying to remain independent and healthy with a narcissistic parent. Thank you for your comment!

      Liked by 2 people

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  14. Scott

    I think you can read about the disorder, but hearing someone who has been through the experience, offers something I don’t think you can get anywhere else. I find myself saying “yep, yep that’s exactly how it went in my family.” I feel like my mom should be put in jail for the crimes she committed against children, all while saying she was doing everything for us, we are ungrateful spoiled brats, she is a saint, she is the victim, who no one could really understand her, poor her.

    What do you do if you are the son of an npd mother, and you were her golden son your whole life, you spent your life being the perfect successful son she wanted, living in the rich snobbish towns we would move to, she isolated us(my sisters and I) physically from any family, and psychologically from friends, saying they were bad, then when you were seventeen years old, she divorced your dad, and randomly moved three thousand miles away into the woods, leaving you behind in the rich town, she then preceded to tell your sisters she had to move because you were unstable, and ungrateful? Now you’re left with no family, difficulty keeping friends, and completely confused about where you came from, and where to go, if you try to bring up that there may have been problems in the family, the npd mother laughs at you and says it’s all in your head. This is my story, I feel like no one can understand, what do I do?

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    1. Hi Scott,

      Thanks for reading. I’m sorry for what you are going through. My son is my mother’s golden child and is still in contact with her. I didn’t realize that NPDs turned on their golden children. This must be especially painful for you.

      I have written more of a “How To” at my day job. Here are the links:

      http://www.empowher.com/emotional-health/content/leaving-your-mother-part-i-letter-narcissists-daughter

      http://www.empowher.com/emotional-health/content/leaving-your-mother-part-2-10-steps-freedom-narcissist

      http://www.empowher.com/emotional-health/content/leaving-your-mother-part-3-repercussions-and-healing

      Forgive me that these are addressed to women, but I write for a women’s site. Everything applies to men as well.

      The most important thing for me was counseling and spiritual direction. All of the lies and manipulation leave us not really knowing what’s true, good, normal and loving. It took me years to get my thoughts ordered and to strengthen myself against her attacks.

      I hope you’ll make an appointment today with a counselor or with a spiritual director at a church, synogogue or temple (someone who is known for their goodness, not their severity. Fire and brimstone might hurt you worse.)

      In the end, you can’t win the graces of your mother and you’ll never convince your sisters of your experience unless they have the empathy to hear it. Just start building your own best life with counseling, exercise, healthy eating, reading, and by creating healthy friendships. It’s a long process. Go towards health, and away from the tangle of lies and control your mother has created.

      You will be okay eventually, I promise. You are worth the effort.

      Misty

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  19. let me be a grownup already

    Yes I decided I needed a little break, that was over ten years ago now. The problem I struggle with is explaining this to most women at work who need to know. There is nothing else in their head but the business of others and their own misery. Now I am the bad guy. I say they are dead. I am old enough to get away with it. The prying keeps it present. Reading Carl Jung explains it is the mother archetype that we place on this woman. Research tells us it is genetics and peers who influence us more than our parents. A dangerous idea in the wrong hands. She is almost the replacement for God.

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  20. Linda Lee/@LadyQuixote

    I found this through Lynette Davis’s reblog.Thank you for writing this post. Thank you especially for not letting the critics stop you from sharing your truth. Knowing that I am not alone, that others also wrestle with the fourth commandment, is so validating. It’s heartbreaking, too… but encouraging.

    I read with sorrow your aunt’s comment. I am so blessed to have an aunt who has been solidly in my corner ever since May 2011. That was when my mother wrote a 62 page hate letter to me, telling me everything that was ever “wrong” with me in my entire life. My mother also sent copies of that horrible, truth twisting letter to my siblings and to my aunt.

    I was shattered! It wasn’t my mother’s first insanely long hate letter to me, her previous record was a 50 pager sent back when I was thirty years old. But it was the first time, to my knowledge, that my mother ever gave copies of her “this is why I hate my scapegoat” rant to others, so they could hate me, too.

    But one really good thing came out of that terrible letter: my aunt finally saw the light about the “momster” my mother is. Ever since then, my aunt has referred to my mother as her “ex sister.” My aunt also calls me her daughter now, and I call her my “aunt-mom.”

    Having my aunt’s love and support goes a long way toward healing the deep wound of feeling like an emotional orphan. I was in my late 50s when my then 76 year old mother wrote that 62 page hate letter. I am in my early 60s now and my momster is 81. My children are all grown, my grandchildren are all grown, and I have a darling 3 year old great-grandson. And yet, even at my advanced age, and despite the fact that I am happy in my life today…. deep down inside I STILL feel like an orphan child! I’ve had therapy, I have read a ton of excellent self help books, and overall, I am a positive, upbeat person. And yet, this deep wound of having been utterly rejected from early childhood by my own mother just Will Not Go Away!

    It seems to me like a foundational part of your being is missing when you did not ever get a mother’s love.

    But people who have never had an absolutely unloving, totally rejecting mother just don’t seem to “get” how deeply wounding that is. It’s like someone who has never truly starved, never had to miss more than the rare occasional meal, can’t fully comprehend what it would be like to go so long without food that you are literally on the brink of death. People who have never truly STARVED might equate it to the hunger pangs you feel when you have skipped breakfast. But skipping breakfast, and starving to death, are two very different things.

    Your aunt said in her 2014 comment: “My sister is not perfect, she says inappropriate things but who doesn’t.” But… being an imperfect human being who occasionally sticks her foot in her mouth is NOT the same thing as being a mother who Does Not Love Her Child AT ALL!!!

    Why some people elect to side with the abuser, as though the abuser isn’t choosing to abuse, as though the abuser is a pitiable victim, is beyond me. I’m shaking my head now…

    I wonder if your aunt would say the same thing about the most evil mothers you sometimes hear about in the news, those mothers who murder, or attempt to murder, their children? Would your aunt say “Well, nobody is perfect…”

    Here is the TRUTH about that: when I was 12 years old my mother tried to gas us all to death while the 5 of us kids slept in our beds. (She excuses that by saying “I was very depressed at the time.” But for my 62 pages of alleged wrongdoing there is apparently No Acceptable Excuse.)

    I can’t even put into words how devastating it is to have your mother try to murder you and your entire family.

    BUT — my mother’s lifelong lack of love for me has hurt me FAR WORSE. That’s right… in my real life personal experience, being unloved by your mother actually hurts WORSE than having your mom go insane and try to murder the whole family!!

    If most normal people would not expect you to honor a mother who would kill her own kids, why do people expect us to honor a mother who does not love her children and who shows that she does not love them by her consistently unloving actions and unloving words?

    This is not about being an imperfect human and occasionally saying something ignorant. It is about getting No Love, Ever. To a child, growing up with no love all, is worse than being physically killed. It is Soul Murder.

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    1. Hi Linda,

      Your comment took my breath away. Yes, NEVER being loved by the person who is entrusted with your care is soul murder. And as you said, therapy helps, loving one’s own children helps, trying to be happy helps, but, your words, “It seems to me like a foundational part of your being is missing when you did not ever get a mother’s love.”

      It’s a whole different lenses through which we see the world. Little glimpses of maternal love of the women around me for their children shock me regularly….like spotting a rare bird…”Wow! Look at that!” and then the grief follows.

      Thanks so much for reading, I’m sorry we have this in common, and I am deeply sorry you had to read those hate letters. I hope your mother can no longer reach you.

      Liked by 1 person

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  22. Laura

    I’m currently no contact with my Mother since May. For the last 7 years of child rearing, i had started to negotiate kindness to her. I had convinced myself If I was only more patient, kind, loving, and respectful to get, we could get along. I was made to believe that I was the reason for our dysfunction.

    There were a lot of red flags I started to identify in the end. But the worst was her turning my precious daughter, her golden grandchild against me. The worst thing I have ever done was allowing her unfettered access to my daughter. If I could give any advice to a Daughter with a Narc Mom. Don’t allow your children with them alone. Ever.

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    1. Good advice, Laura. I found that as my children grew older, they began to see for themselves that something was amiss with how my mother treated people. Even my son, her “golden child”, whom she showered with incessant praise and money, eventually couldn’t take the craziness that went with those things. Stay calm, stay loving, and your children will draw their own conclusions.

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  23. CLW

    Misty,

    I loved this. I am 43 years old and hands down this has been a tremendous help. I enjoy Gail Meyers. You are now at the top of my list. Bravo!!!

    Like

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