The Aging Narcissist: What Happened to Elinor?
By: Beth McHugh 2010
Some time ago I wrote several articles of what life was like for Elinor, the middle aged daughter of an elderly narcissistic mother. These articles spawned countless comments and private correspondences, as well as instigating therapy for many people.
The story has never been concluded formally but I have had many requests for what happened to Elinor. How did she fair with her mother who had berated her as a child and made increasing demands on her as an adult?
Well, Elinor went into counseling and slowly learned the mechanics of how a narcissist thinks and operates. She slowly realized that many of the beliefs she had about herself were untrue and were making her unhappy. When we traced where these beliefs originated from, we were able to work together to often pinpoint the exact statement that set off these negative beliefs Elinor held about herself.
We looked at the reasons why Elinor felt trapped and helpless in her mother’s presence and was largely unable to break away emotionally from her. We looked at how Elinor’s mother kept Elinor in a state of suspended animation, where she could not move forward with her life because she was still caught with one foot in the past whiles trying desperately to move forward into the future.
We also looked at Elinor’s current relationship with her partner and children and she learned to see how her toxic relationship with her mother was interfering with her marriage and her closeness to her children. She had never effectively separated from her mother and so was unable to fully commit to her new family, even though she loved them so much.
In short, Elinor learned the truth about herself, her mother and the mother-daughter relationship she was in. This applies also to father-daughter, father-son and mother-son narcissistic relationships.
Once Elinor learned to recognize how her mother operated, she was able to then predict how her mother might behave in future situations. But most importantly, she could look back at past interactions with her mother through the lens of NPD and see that there wasn’t anything wrong with herself, but that her mother had effectively hypnotized her all through her childhood and teenage years to believe that she was not good enough, or that love was “just around the corner” if only she did the right thing.
After several months of therapy, Elinor now has a healthy self-esteem, something which she never possessed, is able to stand up for herself, not only against her mother but with significant others. She is able to dissociate her mother’s behavior as being independent of her own actions. In short, Elinor learned something that she needed to know – that the problem was all about her mother and not about herself.
This latter breakthrough signaled the beginning of Elinor’s new life.