Mother’s Day is traditionally a day dedicated to celebrating and thanking mothers for their unwavering selfless efforts in raising their children. It is a day to make it all about her, pamper her, treat her, and show her exactly how much you appreciate everything she does for you. Because, for the most part, this appreciation goes unsaid and a mother’s efforts are not acknowledged on a day-to-day basis.
But what if everything is already always about her? What if every day growing up was more about making sure your mother’s needs were met instead of your own? What if you were raised by a narcissistic mother?
“Worse than Christmas. Way worse,” one daughter emails Peg Streep, writer on women’s issues in psychology. “The holiday of hypocrisy since it’s the day on which I conveniently forget everything hurtful thing my mother has ever said or done and I collapse under the pressure of filial duty and send flowers anyway. And every year, she complains about them. ” “Buying a card is paralysing,” another remarks. “# 1 Mum? Um, no. I end up buying a blank card with a benign image and then scribble something that doesn’t totally compromise my integrity. And I end up feeling guilty too.” “It hurts, plain and simple,” says another. “It’s a day of loss. Just a painful reminder of the love and support I never got.”
Narcissistic mothers can have this effect. The core of a narcissist are feelings and behaviours that say, “It’s all about me” and “you’re not good enough.” There is a lack of empathy and an inability to show love. They appear to have a superficial emotional life, and their world is image-oriented, concerned with how things look to others. Rarely discussed due to its painful nature and cultural unacceptability, some people don’t have a mother who knows how to give unconditional love and empathic nurturing. Instead they are faced with someone more aptly described as callous, dishonest, or selfish which can make facing Mother’s Day a nightmare.
How to spot a narcissistic mother
According to Dr Karyl McBride, therapist and founder of The International Resource Center for Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents, there are a number of signs that you may be the child of a narcissistic mother including:
When you discuss your life issues with your mother she diverts the discussion to talk about herself, top the feeling with her own or how it will affect her rather than you
She acts jealous of you and/or competes with you
She lacks empathy for your feelings
She only supports those things you do that reflect on her as a “good mother"
You consistently feel a lack of emotional closeness with her
You consistently question whether or not your mother likes you or loves you
She only does things for you when others can see
She is overly conscious of what others think (neighbours, friends, family, co-workers) and appears phony to you
She blames things on you or others rather than own responsibility for her feelings or actions
She is hurt easily and then carries a grudge for a long time without resolving the problem
You feel responsible for your mother’s ailments or sickness (headaches, stress, illness)
You had to take care of your mother’s physical and emotional needs as a child
You feel unaccepted by your mother and you feel she doesn’t know the real you
She is critical of you and you are often shamed by her
She acts like the world should revolve around her
You find it difficult to be a separate person from your mother
She swings from egotistical to a depressed mood
You feel valued by your mother for what you do rather than who you are
She is controlling, acting like a victim or martyr
She always has to have things her way
Coping with a narcissistic mother on Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day can be a harsh reminder of these traits. Here are some things you can do to help get through the day:
Do something nice for yourself – You can prepare for this day in advance and commit to doing something that you know you will enjoy. Perhaps surround yourself with people who do make you feel good about yourself, or plan your favourite relaxation activity. Acknowledge that you will be feeling a little more fragile than usual and take it easy.
Acknowledge the cultural pressure – Remember that the images you see around you leading up to Mother’s Day are cultural fantasies of motherhood, not reality. They represent what our society wishes all mothers could be like and are idealised. It may help to remember that no mother is perfect and that you are certainly not the only one for whom this day hurts.
Follow your feelings and set boundaries – If you would prefer not to see your mother or send her a card that doesn’t feel right to you then follow your feelings and set boundaries. Try to avoid cultural “shoulds” and rather follow your own internal wishes.
Coping with a narcissistic mother in Life
According to Dr Mark Banschick, M.D., psychiatrist and author ofThe Intelligent Divorce book series, a narcissistic mother can leave deep and lasting impressions on you. But it’s possible to survive and rise above her behaviour. Look at others around you—like your father, school teachers, even your siblings or friends who appreciate you just the way you are.
He also encourages seeing your mother as she really is. By coming to terms with your mother's shortcomings, you can start to set yourself free. Your mother does the best she can; she loves you as she is able to. But, unfortunately it didn’t give you a stable foundation to build on as a child. Just remember—you were always good enough and still are. If she doesn’t understand this, that is her shortcoming, not yours.
For more information you can visit The International Resource Center for Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents