Escaping the Trap of the Narcissistic Mother
By: Beth McHugh 2007
In Dealing with a Narcissistic Mother, we looked at how 39-year-old Elinor was still caught up in a desperate game of trying to win the love and approval of her mother, who suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
When Elinor came in for therapy she was sad, slightly depressed and full of rage for a mother who just could not give her the love and approval that Elinor wanted. Although Elinor had a loving husband, and two wonderful children, she was not happy. This is not unusual when basic childhood needs such as love and approval have not been delivered to the child during the critical formative years of their life. No matter how much love her husband showered upon her, as well as her children’s love, Elinor still felt an emptiness inside.
Of course, this feeling is not exclusive to adult children of narcissists. It is also common to many adults whose parents may have been alcoholics, absent due to heavy work loads, the presence of a mental illness, or many other situations. But the bottom line for Elinor is that, when it came to her mother, she described herself as “invisible”.
She felt invisible, not through any fault of her own, but because her mother was incapable of seeing her as a real person, with real needs of her own. The narcissist views others as mere extensions of themselves, and their value lies in how much they can do for the narcissist. When Elinor was sick, her mother never really cared. She counteracted Elinor’s comments with an unending string of her own ailments, all of which were of far greater importance and severity than Elinor’s. But that of course, is how the narcissist thinks.
With little to give out to others, narcissists often find their circle of acquaintances grows smaller over the years and this was the position Elinor’s mother found herself in. As her mother aged and Elinor’s father died, Elinor’s mother became increasingly unrealistic about the demands she put on her daughter. Still desperately trying to do the “right” thing that would finally unlock the key to her mother’s love, Elinor came to breaking point and hence to me.
The big breakthrough in therapy came when Elinor, after knowing in her head for years that her mother was not going to change, was finally able, through therapy, to accept it in her heart. She said to me: “I finally realize my mother is not going to be that Gingerbread Mom that I’d always wanted her to be.” I thought the concept of the Gingerbread Mom, all pretty and loving and homey and comforting, was a wonderful analogy of everything that Elinor’s mother wasn’t, and yet Elinor had spent her entire life wanting that. Of course this is understandable. Everyone wants a great mom.
But Elinor finally decided that it was easier to accept that this was how it was and give up the hope, that commodity that keeps us hooked in, that her mother would change. She finally stopped banging her head against that brick wall called Mom. Although this transformation took a long time for Elinor, it was worth it in the end. Her mother’s behaviors still make her angry, but they no longer rip her heart out.