Updated: Oct 12, 2020
I grew up in a very unstable home where love was fleeting and conditional, it would appear and disappear again in the blink of an eye. Often I would question if it was ever there at all?
I know now that I completely underestimated the damage of having an emotionally unavailable and cruel mother.
Mothers are glorified within society and to a certain extent, protected from the ideology that they could be anything other than loving and safe for their children.
This is part of the problem and primary reason scapegoat children are left feeling confused and alone in their pain.
I aim to raise awareness surrounding maternal narcissism and how the debilitating effects are long lasting and earth shattering for the children subjected to it.
So what is my story?
My mother had two sides to her. The one that everyone saw and the one they didn’t.
She was the life of the party - where she got attention and would be in her element. Everyone thought she was fun and cool, which is where she thrived. Some of my friends would tell me how lucky I was to have a mum like that and I remember feeling proud.
We had wonderful holidays, extravagant birthday parties, the best clothes, and the most immaculate house.
This narrative kept me stuck for a long time as I struggled to unravel my feelings surrounding my childhood. On paper, it was perfect, my parents did everything right. Right? What could I possibly be upset about? Why was I being so ungrateful?
The side to my mother that no one got to witness outside of my family (my dad, my brother and I) was the one who was verbally aggressive, emotionally unavailable, unstable and incredibly insecure.
You see, my mother was a typical covert narcissist.
Highly manipulative and only concerned with her own feelings, emotions and beliefs. Alcohol played a huge part too. I watched as her dependence grew to a daily need, often coming before anything else.
My dad was an enabler and had his own struggles to face with the marriage dynamic, which meant he too was unable to supplement what was missing most of the time.
Life at home was chaotic and uncertainty seemed to hang in the air, not knowing what reaction might be provoked or what mood either of my parents would be in (Not that I didn’t try and assess this ALL of the time). I became an expert in reading them and acting accordingly, in order to keep peace and avoid confrontation. Unbeknown to me, this behaviour would leak into all areas of my life.
I learnt very quickly that I couldn’t lean on them for support and that my feelings would go unheard. It was not uncommon for my thoughts and beliefs to be dismissed and I’d just be branded a “worrier”.
That was a label that haunted me throughout my childhood and into adulthood. I’ve since learned that this was anxiety - deep rooted amongst the trauma.
I became comfortable in my role as a people pleaser, always solving people’s problems and fixing whatever I could. I lived for validation and reassurance that I was good enough.
In my young adult life I bounced from one abusive relationship to the next (go figure), wondering why this kept happening to me and gradually losing more and more of myself along the way.
I ended up sitting in my parents’ front room at the age of 18 feeling so lost and unhappy - I had just stormed out of my job at Gregg’s bakery after losing my shit with a customer over a luke-warm steak bake (I kid you not!).
In hindsight, I was beginning to spiral out of control and couldn’t get a handle on my sense of self or regulate anything I felt. I was angry and saw the world as a dangerous and scary place.
My mum spoke to me again, as she had done many times before about what a mess I was creating for myself and that I needed to figure out my shit. She brought up the subject of nursing to me and that I should consider it. She always wanted to pursue it and it’d make her very proud.
So that’s what I did. I became a nurse. Just like that.
I guess it’s no surprise that I was good at my job (expert people pleaser). I spent the next 13 years in the profession and for the most part, was comfortable and happy.
I accomplished a great deal over those 13 years. The most significant to me is marrying my wonderful husband and having my two precious children. These three people have taught me more about myself than I could have ever imagined.
The realisations of my childhood trauma started to emerge when I began to separate from my family and explore my individuality. I began to question my mother’s behaviour and treatment of me. The more I became aware of, the more I needed to learn.
It was brutal.
The darkest part of my life happened just after I had given birth to my first child – my daughter.
Whatever fears I had harboured at the thought of being a mother myself magnified when I had this tiny little human in my arms, completely dependent on me to not mess it up - It was too much.
What came next was a cascade of emotional flashbacks and triggers that caused me to shut down. I shut out the pain and didn’t want to face it. I couldn’t.
The thing with trauma is that it has a sneaky little habit of catching up with you. It doesn’t like to be ignored. At some point you need to address it and really commit to your healing. You may not feel like it (I know I didn’t) but you DO deserve it.
When I committed to my healing and gained insight into narcissism, through reading (a lot!) I was astounded at the similarities with my mother. I found so much clarity and validation that I wasn’t crazy. The ability to articulate my experiences and feelings was transformational in giving me the tools to begin to move forward in healing.
I did go to a therapist (two, in fact) but to no prevail. I left both feeling like they didn’t understand fully what I had experienced and ended up gas lighting me further. Not good.
So, I went back to my internal work. I found forums. I spoke to my dad and other family members that I felt safe with, which unfortunately wasn’t many. I immersed myself into healing and began to explore what made me happy. I began to exercise regularly and make better financial choices. I started to forgive myself for not always being the wife and mother I strived for.
I began to see and feel positive shifts in my life.
I was becoming happier, less reactive, and less “busy”. My relationships were going from strength to strength. I was no longer seeking external validation as I now had a foundation of understanding and a new kindness towards myself. It sounds cliché but I found peace.
I recognise how fortunate I have been to have met someone who loves me enough to help me see what I could not. To believe in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. The messages I was telling myself, that began as the result of an unloving role model were forcing me to stay stuck.
I know that not everyone has this influence. Not everyone has the awareness that they require to start the ball rolling in healing.
Unfortunately, there is still such a negative connotation surrounding mental illness and in particular, maternal narcissism, which creates shame as the abuser is your own mother.
I’m here to change that.
I want to shift the focus from learning everything we can about narcissism to the effects of verbal and emotional abuse in those affected. I want to change the culture of support for women that have and are still experiencing this.
Most importantly, I want to put a stop to generational cycles that stop people living their lives to their full potential. I know through my own healing and awareness, my daughter will not spend her life questioning her worth or unlearning toxic behaviours.
Let’s stop apologising for who we are.
I believe in you.