When a mother's love isn't unconditional – the damage narcissistic parents can do
Ever felt as if your mum or dad don't really see you or aren't even interested? Jenny Lee speaks to one Irish woman about her experience of being raised by a mother with narcissistic personality disorder and the impact it had upon her life
WHILE our culture tells us mothers love their children and will do anything for them, sadly this isn't the case for children of parents with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
Estimated to affect 0.6 per cent of the population, according to the NHS people with NPD act as if they have an inflated sense of their own importance and show an intense need for other people to look up to them. They lack empathy, exploit people for their own personal gain, exaggerate their own abilities and think they are entitled to be treated better than other people.
For one Irishwoman, who writes under the pseudonym Danu Morrigan (Danu is the mother goddess and Morrigan is the goddess of death and rebirth), being raised by a mother with NPD is "a pure and laser-sharp form of psychological and emotional abuse', where hugs and praise are non-existent.
Her mother's cruelty was not physical, but rather manifested in neglect, disinterest and manipulation.
"Where real mothers build us up, narcissistic mothers knock us down," says Danu, who remembers being told by her mother at the age of six that she was getting fat, and who had her wedding day ruined by her mother's verbal annoyance at the colour scheme.
Always striving, but failing to win her mother's approval, her mother's treatment made her believe she was a bad person and in her teens she suffered from low self-esteem, depression and bulimia.
As a teenager her mother would listen to her vomit violently, but never offered her any support, and when Danu miscarried her first child, her mother "relished the drama", she says.
Sadly NPD is an invisible abuse as neither the mother nor the daughter even know it is happening. Although the birth of her son made Danu open her eyes to her mother's cruelty, it was not until she was in her forties that she realised the detrimental effect her mother was having upon her. Only then, after a close friend helped her to realise that her mother's behaviour was far from normal, did she find the courage, as she sees it, to end their relationship.
"It's was my parents' 45th wedding anniversary and my friend Maggie, who was staying that weekend, came with me too. Except for ordering food, my mother talked non-stop for over two hours. My son, who was 12 at the time, wasn't even acknowledged by his grandparents and was so bored that I allowed him to go and sit in the car and read a book. My friend also made an excuse to leave early. It was like a murder mystery game where people kept disappearing and my mother never even acknowledged they were gone – nothing stopped her talking incessantly about herself.
"I always came away from my parents emotionally upset, but I felt a duty to keep in touch with them. It was my friend's objective identification of their appalling behaviour which confirmed what I already knew. And I knew, instantly, I didn't want to see my parents again."
Danu sent her parents a letter telling them she was cutting ties for "self-preservation" and has not seen or spoken to them since. She also made the decision not to attend her mother's funeral last year.
"It would have felt very hypocritical. I didn't feel I could sit there and take people's condolences," adds Danu, though she admits she regrets losing her father.
"Any attention we got as children was from him and I loved him very dearly growing up. But he always put her first, before our needs, and if you dared to challenge her, he got vicious about defending her. I remember when I was about 14 going to complain to him about something my mother was doing to us, but he said ‘Stop making me unhappy with the wife I've chosen."
While Danu doesn't advocate that everyone with a narcissistic parent needs to break contact with their birth family, she stresses that you need to put yourself and your immediate family first.
"Until you acknowledge the toxicity of the way your mother raised you, and still treats you, no change is possible," she says. "It's so much more than vanity or being 'a bit difficult'. For narcissists, everything is all about them. Their broken fingernail is more important to them than your cancer diagnosis.
"Narcissistic mothers invented my-way-or-highway-ism and the one big lie our narcissistic mother tells us is we have to keep her happy – we don't. It's OK for her to be unhappy and for you to be happy."
Cutting ties from her parents gave Danu an immediate sense of "relief" and the green light to "get on with life". As well as 10 weeks of professional therapy, she starting working through her problems and researching narcissism.
This resulted in the publication of her first book You're Not Crazy – It's Your Mother in 2012 and corresponding with thousands of others who had similar childhoods through her website and forum daughtersofnarcissisticmothers.com.
In her new book, Dear Daughter of a Narcissistic Mother, she brings together 100 letters she has written and sent to these people as a weekly email over the past two years on a wide range of topics, including: grief, siblings, shame, boundaries, narcissistic rage, guilt, the need to belong, self-care, judgment from others, trust, assertiveness and therapies such as Emotional Freedom Technique.
"We are not on an easy journey, but I truly believe that healing and thriving is possible for those of us who were unfortunate enough to be raised by a mother with narcissistic personality disorder," says Danu, who stresses that children of narcissistic parents are not flawed, rather they "are injured and require healing".
:: Dear Daughter Of A Narcissistic Mother – 100 Letters To Help You Recover And Thrive is published by dltbooks.com