"Will I Ever Be Good Enough?" by Karyl McBride, strikes cords of familiar experiences. It makes the crazy making making up mind, appear normal. We are not nuts, we responded in kind to the landscapes of our childhood. We grew distorted from the maternal narcissism.
Here are the 6 faces of narcissistic mothers.
The Six Faces of Maternal Narcissism
But enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do YOU think of me? —Bette Midler as CC Bloom in Beaches6
My research has identified six types of narcissistic mothers, all within the engulfing-ignoring spectrum. I call them “the six faces.” As you explore this list, please understand that your mother can be primarily one type or a combination of several of these. In addition, the engulfing and ignoring mom can be interwoven into any of the following types.
THE FLAMBOYANT-EXTROVERT The flamboyant-extrovert is the mother about whom movies are made. She’s a public entertainer, loved by the masses, but secretly feared by her intimate house partners and children. If you can perform in her show, too, all the better. If you can’t, you’d better watch out. She is noticeable, flashy, fun, and “out there.” Some love her, but you despise the outward masquerade she performs for the world. For you know that you don’t really matter to her and her show, except in how you make her look to the rest of the world. Seeing how the world responds to her confuses you. You see that she doesn’t offer the same warmth and charisma to you, her child, as she does to others— to friends, colleagues, family, even to strangers. “If she could only love me, then she could be whatever she wants to be and I wouldn’t care,” you feel. You desperately want her to know you and to let you be yourself too. More often than not, these mothers lead charmed lives and want their daughters to fit into their social world and conform to their mold.
THE ACCOMPLISHMENT-ORIENTED To the accomplishment-oriented mother, what you achieve in life is paramount. Success depends on what you do, not who you are. She expects you to perform at the highest possible level. This mom is very proud of her children’s good grades, tournament wins, admission into the right college, and graduation with the pertinent degrees. She loves to brag about them too. But if you do not become what your accomplishment-oriented mother thinks you should, and accomplish what she thinks is important, she is deeply embarrassed, and may even respond with a rampage of fury and rage. A confusing dynamic is at play here. Often, while the daughter is trying to achieve a given goal, the mother is not supportive because it takes away from her and the time the daughter has to spend on her. Yet if the daughter achieves what she set out to do, the mother beams with pride at the awards banquet or performance. What a mixed message. The daughter learns not to expect much support unless she becomes a great hit, which sets her up for low self-esteem and an accomplishment-oriented lifestyle.
THE PSYCHOSOMATIC MOTHER -The psychosomatic mother uses illness and aches and pains to manipulate others, to get her way, and to focus attention on herself. She cares little for those around her, including her daughter, or their needs. If your mother was like this, the only way you were able to get attention from her was to take care of her. If you failed to respond to her, or even rebelled against her behavior, Mom would play the victim by becoming more ill or have an illness-related crisis to redirect your attention and make you feel guilty. I call this the “illness control method.” It is very effective. If the daughter does not respond, she looks bad and feels like a loser who can’t be nice to her mother. The most important thing to the psychosomatic mother is that her daughter be there to care for her and understand her. Many times the psychosomatic mother uses her illnesses to escape from her feelings or from having to deal with a difficulty in life. The daughter will commonly hear from her father or other family members, “Don’t tell your mother. It will upset her or make her sick.” Some daughters learn that being sick themselves brings some attention from their psychosomatic mothers because illness provides a common bond. The mother can relate to illness and is able to communicate about it with the daughter, but the daughter must be careful not to be sicker than her mother is, because the mother will not feel cared for, which she is entitled to.
THE ADDICTED In Rebecca Wells’s novel Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Sidda describes the sound of her mother’s voice as “the cacophony of five jiggers of bourbon.” Although “two thousand miles apart, Sidda could hear the ice cubes clinking” as she talks to her mother on the phone. She then says, “If anyone ever made a movie about her childhood, that would be the soundtrack.” 8
The parent with a substance-abuse problem will always seem narcissistic, because the addiction speaks louder than anything else. Sometimes when an abuser sobers up, the narcissistic behavior goes away. Sometimes not. But while users are using, their focus is always on themselves and their god, the addiction. Children of alcoholics and other substance abusers know this well: The bottle or the drug of choice always comes before anything or anyone else. Substance abuse is an effective way to mask feelings. Clearly, the mother who shows up drunk at her daughter’s choir concert is not thinking of her daughter’s needs.
THE SECRETLY MEAN The secretly mean mother does not want others to know she is abusive to her children. She usually has a public self and a private self, which are quite different. Daughters of the secretly mean describe their mothers as being kind, loving, and attentive when out in public, and abusive and cruel at home. It is hard not to feel significant resentment toward your mother for this, especially if she fooled a lot of people outside the family. If you had this mother, you know how awful this inconsistent behavior feels. In church your mother has her arm around you and gives you some gum from her purse with a warm smile. At home, when you ask for the gum, or reach out to her, you get slapped and demeaned. This mother is capable of announcing in public, “I am so proud of my daughter. Isn’t she beautiful?” and then saying at home, “You really should lose some weight, your hair is a mess, and you dress like a slut.” These unpredictable, opposite messages are crazy-making.
THE EMOTIONALLY NEEDY While all narcissistic mothers are emotionally needy at some level, some show this characteristic more openly than others. These mothers wear their emotions on their sleeves and expect their daughters to take care of them, a losing proposition for children, who are expected to calm their mothers, listen to their adult problems, and solve problems with her. Of course, these children’s feelings are neglected and you are unlikely to get anywhere near the same nurturance that you are expected to provide.
Now that you’ve had this inside look at many different types of narcissistic mothers, it is important to emphasize a few things. First of all, our mothers weren’t born this way. They most likely faced insurmountable barriers to love and empathy when they were children. In part 3 of this book, one of your challenges will be to explore your mother’s background, so that you will have a deeper understanding of the reasons for her behavior. This does not take away your pain, but allows you to empathize and forgive her to a degree that will help your recovery. No narcissist operates in a vacuum. In the next chapter, we’ll do some family study and take a look at the rest of the narcissistic nest. Karyl
When I copied the above, I did not copy the examples of each type of mother, just gave you the definition.
What has stayed with me over the past few days, is how the affects of being raised as a narcissistic is becoming one. We who were raised not to have our own feelings, WILL depend upon others to help us with our feelings.
I know, there will be many who will think that I have sunk to a new low, that now I am lambasting my mother, to the extent of finding NO good within her. Not only was she married to a pedophile, she was also in her own right, abusive with her maternal narcissism.
That is the makeup of my parents. It is in this environment that I was raised in. And, it totally explains why I was the way I was.
Without acknowledging and accepting who they were, I cannot find out who am I.
In the book, she isn't intent on blaming. She is however, into finding the answers to why we didn't automatically have an inner sense of self - self-love and worthiness.
Unless you have experienced the solid dense unfeeling inside, you can't know how puzzling this is.
The greatest feelings I had for my parents were not on the scope of what a child should have for their parents. Mine were weird. Fear, Resentment, rage, angst, trying to be good enough, not being able to just be me....etc.
Absent was the comfort and care and feeling of safety.
The nurturing feelings never showed up.
Until, I began mothering myself.
I would say the most like my mother is the EMOTIONALLY NEEDY and SECRETLY MEAN.
And, these would have been my labels as well. I also only noticed, what my kids did or didn't do for me. I was all about the doings...not about the being who they were born to be.
Reading this book and seeing the lay of the land has been helpful on so many levels. It as I said, explains how I grew to be who I was...and even how I was able to undo the damage over a long period of time.
My adult children all lived at home for a period of about 3 years. I knew then, it was so I could re-do my program of mothering. I had the opportunity to show them a new mother.
While it doesn't erase away the affects of my maternal narcissistic mothering, it did however give them a start on a new pathway.
It released them from my narcissistic expectations of them.
I am so very grateful to have been given the opening to see who my mother was and to change the way I mothered. The difference between maternal nurturing and maternal narcissism is so wide; there are no common denominators.
One has a woman who is secure in her own self - her own self-love and worthiness.
The other has no sense of who she is inside. She is a stranger to herself. She relies solely on others to create her. She is at the will of the world as her emotions are ruled by others. All her intents to love come out as abuse. She is loveless. Unloving. Self absorbed.
My parents were the perfect match. Inside of both of them lay the un-expressed wounds of their childhoods. That is the program and legacy they passed on.
Unless and until you see who your parents ARE, you will pass along your wounds. You cannot love yourself while you are still in love or protecting a narcissistic parent.
It is impossible to feel the love of self, until you feel the absence of maternal/paternal love.
While this book may seem like the second blow I swung to our family, it is actually the second gift in understanding our past. The key to undoing the distorted love.
We need to find out what is contorted. What is twisted out of shape?
Is it us?
Were we born this way?
I love how reality is always kinder.
When I saw the narcissistic ways of my parents, I was then able to see myself without the distorted love image.
This inner distorted image we are given being raised by self-absorbed people is that we are worthless and not good enough.
Once you see the reality, you see yourself as being worthy.
"The soul felt it's worth"....
And, once you know this, you can't not know it.
The difference of living from the place of value, compared to no value is like breathing or not breathing. Living or not living. Free or not free. Love or fear.
While it may seem like a mission to destroy your parents, it is actually the mission to destroy the distorted sense of self you were given.
Our new self discovery will change the legacy of our family.
Their pain wasn't all in vain.
Some of us, found a new path to walk.