In Part I of Escaping Your Mother, I addressed the impetus behind this terrible untangling, the cutting of ties from your narcissistic mother. This is not another “cleanse your life of toxic people” post. Those posts promote selfish disregard for, and lack of patience with, hurting people, the mentally ill and the overwhelmed.
People are broken. Life dispenses the unimaginable. Women lose children and never stop grieving. Years ago a friend’s mother, father and brother died within three months of one another—monumental, destabilizing pain. It is a sign of humanity that we accompany those who suffer with mercy, as long as it takes. The Beatitudes require it.
Audrey Hepburn said it just as well as any prophet or theologian:
People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.
Peter Kreeft teaches, “Love is the highest accuracy,” and my advice here falls short of that. Perfect love would be to remain in relationship with your narcissistic mother practicing the beatitudes while maintaining a teflon resistance to her efforts to hurt you and an indifference to non-stop deception. I can’t love that well.
This series is not an ultimatum to use against flawed mothers. Mothers sometimes impose their will, advocate too stridently for a particular choice, needle you about your hair. Flawed mothers do these things. I do these things.
In contrast, the narcissistic mother habitually diminishes her children, criticizes or competes with their accomplishments, and demeans them. In a grotesque parody of motherhood, she unearths her children’s vulnerabilities in order to exploit them for the sole purpose of inflicting pain and wielding power.
The narcissistic mother tells lies for sport, eviscerates her children in secret to avoid witnesses and social consequences. If you dare stand up to her, she gaslights you, challenging your perception of reality. “You have a very vivid imagination” is her mantra.
Mine is a Christian perspective. As Christians, adult children of narcissists are often wracked with guilt, and stay in abusive situations far too long because of a misapplication of the commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother.”
I go into detail on the religious implications of the fourth commandment for Catholics (fifth for Protestants) here.
For religious people, a psychologically abusive parent is a conundrum of epic proportions. A narcissistic mother does nothing better than convince you of your unworthiness. Any threat to her authority is equated with breaking commandments. The guilt is unimaginable.
Heal, from the inside out.
For me, healing to the point of leaving involved ten years of counseling and six years of spiritual direction. Growing older, and the magical self-acceptance bestowed by turning 40, also helped.
Children of narcissists have been raised in a school of self-doubt and self-hatred. Counseling can teach us what is healthy and what isn’t, what a boundary is, and the fair and appropriate boundaries to set with an abusive parent.
Daughters of narcissistic mothers are notoriously bad at self-care. We are taught our perceptions are mistaken and our needs unreasonable. Make a habit of mothering yourself by listening to your body’s cues: take a nap when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, keep your water glass full.
Seek healthy, nurturing women to add to your life, but remember they will always have their own obligations, relationships and priorities. It is a temptation to have unrealistic expectations of others, to grasp too tightly to friendship, trying to fill the vacuum.
Witnessing the myriad ways female friends love their daughters may remind you of what you never had. Prayer and mindfulness will allow you to acknowledge that pain and sit with the discomfort. Be grateful for insights into motherhood and loving kindness other women can teach you, that previously were beyond your frame of reference.
The following is a Japanese folktale told by Lafcadio Hearn, a meditation on belonging. Once we feel we belong, are part of the whole, a valuable part of life and being, we are better able to sever ties with someone intent on our emotional destruction. Someone who dismisses our experiences and perceptions with, “You have a very vivid imagination,” whose every word and gesture is meant to eradicate our sense of self.
A Drop of Dew by Lafcadio Hearn
To the bamboo lattice on my study window a single dewdrop hangs quivering.
Its tiny sphere repeats the colors of the morning,—colors of sky and field and far-off trees. Inverted images of these can be discerned in it, —also the microscopic picture of a cottage, upside down, with children at play before the door. . .
So that tiny globe of light, with all its fairy tints and topsy-turvy picturings, will have vanished away. Even so, within another little while you and I must likewise dissolve and disappear. . .
But ask yourself what becomes of the dewdrop? By the great sun its atoms are separated and lifted and scattered. . . they will creep in opalescent mists; they will whiten in frost and hail and snow; they will reflect again the forms and colors of the macrocosm. . .
Even so with the particles of that composite which you term your very Self. Before the hosts of heaven the atoms of You were—and thrilled and quickened and reflected the appearances of things. And when all the stars of the visible night have burned themselves out, those atoms . . . will tremble again in thoughts, emotions and memories—in all the joys and pains of lives still to be lived. . .
Your personality signifies, in the eternal order, just as much as the motion of molecules in the shivering in any single drop. . . the dews will continue to gather and to fall, there will always be quivering pictures.
Once you reach the place where you accept yourself as being as integral to the natural world as a drop of dew, as multifaceted and inseparable from life as the hushed beauty of snowy days and magnificence of ancient trees, it will be easier to walk away from the woman whom God entrusted with your care, and who repaid that trust by trying to extinguish you.
This article first appeared at my day job at EmpowHer.com. If you like listicles, read there.