Dealing with a Narcissistic mother needs some proven, rock-solid steps and you are in the right place, my new friend. I am so happy we have hooked up.
If you suspect your mum has narcissistic traits but haven’t done my quiz yet — check it out here. It should put your mind at rest.
I want to help you start on a journey to finding yourself and, toward living a life that’s yours. One where you take back control from your Narcissistic mother and put an end to this crap self-talk they planted in your brain, once and for all.
Maybe you’ve been switching off emotionally since, like, forever — you had to as a child because nothing made sense- and this has meant that you’ve missed huge chunks of your life. Time with friends, partners, kids or even just doing the stuff you love.
So — enough of this already. Let’s do this. It’s your time.
I’ve got one quick thing I need to say. This work is tough and can be overwhelming. Even recognising narcissistic traits in a parent can send you spiralling. So read as much as you can — but don’t push.
Pushing through doesn’t help, and will more than likely blast your brain into a place where you feel that this is all more than you can cope with.
Remember — we are talking to little you. That child who relied so much on their parents for everything — and who’d do anything to keep the peace and their family together. That child needs baby steps. So — please — do this at YOUR pace. And reach out if you need help. Everyone needs help with this. Obviously — even me, once in a while
So — without further ado — I give to you — Dealing with your Narcissistic Mother. 101.
- We need to acknowledge that your mother is highly unlikely to change. Her behaviour gets her a supply of attention and Narcissists rarely stay in therapy. It requires them to look at themselves and the effect they have on others and also to be vulnerable — which they will avoid at all costs. The idea that one day she will say “You know what, you are right. I did that. It was wrong and I’m so sorry for the pain I’ve caused you” needs to go. Once and for all. If it does happen — great. But — sustained behavioural change requires work that Narcissists would see as a sign of weakness.
- So — it is up to you. Not fair — but true. We don’t need to change how you feel. We need to acknowledge how you feel and honour it. We do, however, need to change how you interact with her. We need to cut off her supply from you.
- This can be a huge concept — because it may involve separation, physical and/or emotional, from other members of your family. Different children in the same family will have been affected differently, and coped differently, with what happened in their childhood. You can’t force your siblings to see what they aren’t ready to see. On top of this, there is usually one sibling who is the family “flying monkey” — who does everything your mother wants. This is how they’ve chosen to cope and, assuming they are an adult, their choice.
- It is really important to recognise how your mother’s behaviour has affected you. You’re probably are really scared of her disapproval or disappointment (they love that word), you might experience difficulty making decisions because of her constant control over you and you might experience the need to have others fulfil your needs. You could have difficulty expressing your feelings, be scared of outbursts and anger, and you’ll most likely have a huge lack of boundaries with your mother. These are all perfectly normal reactions to her behaviour and NOT the result of something that’s wrong with YOU.
- Alan Rappaport, a dude who writes about Narcissists, explains on his website that “co-narcissistic people, as a result of their attempts to get along with their narcissistic parents, work hard to please others, defer to other’ s opinions, worry about how others think and feel about them, are often depressed or anxious, find it hard to know their own views and experience, and take the blame for interpersonal problems.” NORMAL I tells ya. Not ideal but normal.
- I cannot stress enough that you don’t — and possibly can’t — do this alone. You need a therapist. Your mother has probably affected your friendships — or even made friends with your friends or spouse. You need to have someone who has your back and who is available to you as a safe place to fall. Someone separate from all the other aspects of your life. Someone your mother has not touched. Non-negotiable. Invest in yourself. You are worth it.
- Grieve. Grieve the mother and childhood you didn’t have. Write down what you missed and allow yourself to grieve. Maybe she interfered in your relationships with your siblings. Career choices. Choice of partners and interfered in your friendships or parenting. Remember — there is no right way to grieve. At first, you might feel absolutely nothing — like you are looking at someone else’s life. Again — normal. It can help to find a photo of yourself as a child — look into their eyes and contemplate how young and innocent that child was, and how they did the best they could. How unfair it was that they were required to carry the emotional needs of their parents. Mostly — how they deserved to be mothered and feel safe at home.
- Write down the phrases that your mother uses when you speak with her. Narcissists are very predictable and quite often keep using the same phrases — because they’ve worked for them in the past. Having these phrases with you — or near you when you have to speak with her — will remind you that you expected this and that you aren’t going crazy. Something I’ve suggested in a post before, is that when one of your narcissistic parents says anything on your list — text a close friend. Narcissist Bingo. When they say 10 predictable phrases in one sitting, you and your friend can plan to go out and do something you enjoy. Some of my favourites all-time hits are, “I don’t remember that” or “I know you better than you know yourself”. I might tell you a few more in the future — they are doozies.
- Writing these phrases down also lets you work out new responses. If your mother is going to use the same phrases — she is going to hear the same response every time from you. No explanations. The more words you use, the more ammunition they have to use against you. Just something simple like “If you speak to me like that I will leave.” No emotional words. Having said that, your mother will probably ignore your requests — but you’ll leave with your dignity. You warned them — and you acted on your ultimatum.
- I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again — they want attention. Positive or Negative. Don’t pay them any attention. Let them dance like a monkey around you. Just ignore, ignore, ignore.
- The hardest part of your recovery is allowing yourself to have all the feels. You need to feel EVERYTHING. You also need to learn to name your feelings. No feeling is out of bounds. This will be incredibly overwhelming at first. It just is. There is no skipping over this step. I tried. No banana. Damnation. Your therapist will help you name your emotions and teach you how to sit with them. During this phase — it is best to limit contact with your mother. You’ll be very vulnerable and you need space to heal.
- You need to relearn what makes you, YOU. I have worksheets for this. But — I’m going to bet that your identity was so caught up in your mother’s that you’ll find it hard, at first, to pinpoint what you actually like and don’t like. This is a fun step when you finally get into it. I found out I HATE floral prints, the colour orange, sewing, knitting, macrame and large groups of people. I love loud music, purple, cooking, motorbikes, taking stuff apart, computer games and True Crime.
- You need to learn how to self-soothe. Making a list of cheap and easy things you can do to make yourself feel safe is a great thing to put aside a few minutes for. Just start with one thing. Mine- eating peanut butter (peanut butter or cookie dough or anything with that consistency and fat content is very soothing because it is similar to breast milk — weird and a bit gross, but true.) Baths — being covered by water is a very comforting feeling and stops all of your nerve endings from feeling exposed and vulnerable. Music — no explanation necessary. A very specific meditation tape. — because I am special like that. Cooking. And — my expensive self-soothing — skydiving and fast motorbikes. Some fabrics are great and some smells are also great. Okay — and my main one, World of Warcraft. Losing myself in a computer game helps me decompress. Keep this list close by for any time you feel like you’ve dissociated, or if you’ve had an encounter with your mother and feel even a little bit rattled. It is essentially doing for yourself what wasn’t done for you as a child. She will not do it — refer to point 1.
- You DON’T owe her an explanation. You DON’T owe her your time. You DON’T owe her a conversation. You DON’T owe her time with your kids. You DON’T owe her one single thing. SHE is the parent.
- You need to acknowledge your feelings toward your father for allowing her behaviour. Quite often, your father will have sacrificed your emotional wellbeing for his own, or at the very least, for his relationship with your mother.
- Decide what level of contact you would like. What are you most comfortable with? What do you feel okay about? This is such a personal decision and no one else can make this decision for you. It is also perfectly okay to change your mind about this at any time. As you change, your comfort levels will change. You’ll need to reset boundaries. But again — don’t expect her to do what you ask. You still need to have very clear boundaries. For you.
- Realise you’ll feel guilty. This is a learned response. These feelings were programmed into you at a time when your brain was developing. Be gentle with yourself. The only time when any emotion becomes an issue is if it starts to rule your life and your decisions. Get your therapist on speed dial/appointment, to be a circuit breaker for your destructive patterns and habits. Let yourself feel guilty. Emotion will not consume you or break open your world. It also passes. Any emotion is usually only overwhelming for about 20 minutes and will be very similar to a bad cramp. Lol. It works up to a peak and then subsides. Every single time you allow yourself to feel an emotion, you remind your brain that emotions are safe and perfectly normal.
- Our brains send us messages that get louder until we acknowledge them. Acknowledging your feelings will help tell your brain that you’ve heard its message loud and clear. Your brain won’t have to find a place in your body to store your emotions. Because — yep — that’s where they go.
- In a healthy mother/child relationship, a child might come home and discuss stuff they’ve felt during the day — for example, during a fight with a friend. A ‘healthy/attentive’ mother will acknowledge that the child might feel lonely, sad, left out — and perhaps suggest stuff the child can do to feel better. They’ll also provide a couple of ways their child can try and sort the issue out with the friend. This allows the child to sort through uncomfortable situations by themselves when they are older. I’m guessing this didn’t happen for you. Your mother wanted you to be dependant on her. Not to become your own separate person. You’ll need to learn to name what you are feeling, acknowledge it and go back to your list of ways to self-soothe. After a while, this all becomes second nature. Trust me.
- Realise that you can have control. Your mother wants you to react. Whether or not you react is up to you. At first, I get my clients to react to me, instead of their mother. Gradually — the reacting actually stops and they regain a sense of control. When you can anticipate your mother’s words and actions and trust yourself to respond in a dignified and non-reactive fashion, it is such an amazing feeling. Don’t give your mother emotional ammunition and keep your conversations to small talk. Don’t give her any reaction or information which is precious to you. Ever.
That’s enough for today — and a good start. Baby steps.
It’s time to set down your armour, establish boundaries, let the right people in and begin to learn all about who you are away from your mother.
You got this.
We got this.