|Narcissistic Abuse: Echo Recovery|
© by Gail Meyers
I do not know how many paths there are to recovery, nor am I am licensed mental health professional. What I do know and want to share is what has worked for me. First of all, it really helped me to map out the recovery process. I want to know where I am going. What's the plan? Volumes have been written about each one of these areas, but in a very general sense there are at least three steps in therapy. Understanding this helped me understand why the things adult sons and daughters of narcissists are told over and over by professionals are important.
Understanding the ProblemThis is the part where you go to therapy without the slightest idea there is a name for the lifetime of abuse and trauma you have endured. You are convinced at this point that it is all our fault or you are going crazy, or both. Then the therapist tells you she believes you are a daughter or son of a narcissistic personality disordered mother. It might also be from reading articles and thinking this sounds hauntingly familiar, then talking to the therapist about it or joining a group or both.
No matter the way in which we begin to discover the problem, we need to understand it. We need to understand the disorder, the manipulation tactics, and the effects it has had and is having on us. I had already spent three years in sexual abuse therapy, made a lot of changes, done a lot of recovery work and learned a lot about alcoholism, sexual abuse, dysfunctional family roles, etc. So this is the part where I read every webpage and book I could find on the topic of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder, as so many other adult sons and daughters of narcissists have told me they have done. Actually, I have accumulated quite a bit of material arranged in albums by topic on my Narcissistic Personality Disorder Mother Facebook Page, if you care to start there. There is also a narcissistic mother video playlist on YouTube.
When I found Dr. McBride's book I had the rare opportunity to spend some time alone at the lake. So, it was just me, my journal, and the book on CD while being surrounded by the comforting beauty of nature. It was a cleansing, healing experience. Being able to listen to the validating words being spoken was even more healing than reading.
I also looked at my family history and put a lot of pieces together. As I continued learning about the problem, more and more denial crumbled. This is a time when you have to really be gentle with yourself. Do not beat yourself up about the denial or not seeing something that appears to have been right in front of your face for years. The denial protected our minds so we could survive the abuse.
Dealing with Feelings and Healing EmotionallyThis is the hard part that can feel endless and overwhelming at times. It is processing trauma, anger and feelings. This is where you accept the reality as you are able to and grieve the losses. It is the hard part, but there is such a release. Just as someone grieving the death of a loved one bounces around in the five stages of grief articulated in the book, On Death and Dying, we may also bounce around between denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
That is normal, but some professionals like Dr. Karyl McBride instruct us that acceptance must come first in our recovery process. We need to accept the reality of the situation and the fact that our narcissistic mothers who are high on the spectrum are never going to change. I spent years nursing that toxic hope.
The process I experienced is dealing first with the narcissist - anger, grief, acceptance, anger, anger, anger, grief, sadness, and rage, deeper acceptance, then becoming better able to look at my own life and behavior. For me, as my denial shattered, the anger really kicked in. The anger soon turned to what seemed like absolute rage that felt as if it would never end, but it finally did subside.
There is a huge distinction that must be made at this point. There is a difference between intellectually processing and feeling the feelings. I was told I needed to feel the feelings, not just emotionally detach and intellectually process - which is what I much preferred to do! I was amazed by the fact that when I actually let myself feel the pain associated with the memories how much it began to take the sting out!
As adult children of narcissists many of us have been conditioned our entire lives to pretend and stuff our feelings. So, this might be the last thing in the world you feel like doing, but it made all the difference for me. While it is also important to process the anger, it is equally as important to process it in healthy, non-destructive ways.
EmpowermentAfter all of the hard work of dealing with our feelings, we can then look at our experiences in a healthier more realistic manner - in light of reality. In other words, you reconsider your experiences in light of the new information you learn. You start to get to know yourself and take care of yourself. You shed the false image of yourself. You are important, too.
How a personality disordered parent treated you was not your fault, but it is now your responsibility to make choices for yourself. These are usually totally and completely self-centered personalities who have probably accused you of being the selfish one if you so much as protested the abuse.
You are not being selfish by taking care of yourself and protecting yourself from further abuse. If it helps, consider what you would do for a close friend in the same situation. Then, do that for yourself. You would not think your friend was selfish, and you are not being selfish either.
Among other things, recovery results in regaining ourselves, setting healthier boundaries, asserting ourselves in healthy ways, finding balance, and engaging in two-way, reciprocal relationships.
Finding the Right Therapist and SupportThere are resources across the United States that can be found at 211.org, including sliding scale counseling. There are also online therapists like Dr. Martinez-Lewi, who gives telephone consultations.
Some larger churches provide Christian therapists if you attend the church. It is very important to find a good fit with a therapist. Listen to your instincts! There are also many groups and forums online for adult sons and daughters of narcissists.
Will a Narcissistic Mother Ever Change?Some logical questions come to mind when you realize your mother has narcissistic personality disorder. They are the same questions you have asked your entire life. Will she ever change? Will she ever love me? Will I ever heal from all of this?
My answer is absolutely you can heal, but the narcissist will never change and lacks the capacity to love you. My mother not only did not love me, but accused me of not loving her, which I know was projection.
The more traits your mother has that fit the disorder, the less likely she is a candidate for successful treatment. This means that you can't fix her and you should not be attempting it.
Dr. Karyl McBride
In many ways your healing can be delayed and unnecessary abuse suffered by hanging on to the hope that the narcissist will change. I do not say that lightly, but from more than 40 years of trying at different times myself. Even following a two year terminal illness, with plenty of time to contemplate things, she did not change for the better prior to death.
There is necessary and unnecessary pain. Feeling the feelings associated with the recovery process is necessary pain in order to recover. Hanging onto a hope that someone will change who has no desire to change can bring years of unnecessary pain.
Setting Boundaries with Narcissistic Mother: No Contact or Low ContactAs you begin to make your way out of the rabbit hole determined to believe you own eyes, ears and gut instead of the lies of a narcissist, you will soon face the decision as to whether to maintain contact with your narcissistic personality disordered mother.
No Contact or Low Contact? The goal here is to prevent further abuse while working on healing from past abuse. This is a personal choice each adult child son or daughter of a narcissistic personality disordered mother must make for herself or himself. However, the goal is no longer trying to change another person who has no intention of changing.
This sounds so simple, but it was extremely beneficial to me. When you think of the behavior of the narcissist, name it. Whatever the tactic, put a name on it. Is it lying, gaslighting, playing the victim while vilifying the true victim, triangulation, forgive and forget?.
You can make better choices for yourself. You can heal. You can enjoy life. You can even be happy and healthy.
List of Tips for Healing from a Narcissist MotherThese are ideas and tips that have helped me along during the healing process:
- Learn everything you can about narcissism. As you continue reading it becomes clearer that it was not your fault. You also learn to recognize the common manipulation tactics. This helps you be able to understand and put a name on what happened, as well as making them less effective on you in the future.
- Begin setting healthy boundaries. It is a process, not an event but contemplate and implement healthy boundaries. It is a process that gets easier as you practice. There is something about putting goals in writing that adds focus and energy. Put your new healthy boundaries in writing, ponder them knowing you have decided what is best. Then, when you have a weak or challenging moment, you can look at your paper and tell yourself you thought this out. This process seems to help when you are trying to change. That does not mean you can never change your boundaries or goals or that establishing healthier boundaries is going to happen overnight, but it will be helpful in the beginning. Once the boundaries are better established then it will be easier to see where you can become more flexible. Look at it like trying to learn to ride a bike. When you fall, get back up and try again. Boundaries are important in all relationships, so it is well worth the effort to learn and set healthy boundaries. If someone, anyone, does not respect your boundaries that should send up a red flag of caution to you about that person or relationship. Dr. Henry Cloud's book on boundaries is excellent, as well as widely recommended by therapists.
- Find some support. You may have been trained by the narcissist to suffer in silence, but begin learning to reach out. Just take baby steps at first. This can be difficult, especially since many adult children of narcissistic personality disordered parents learn to distrust and always be on guard. Begin slowly if you need to so you do not overwhelm yourself. Trust is to be earned, not granted. Slowly build trust in relationships, instead of jumping in with both feet. Whether it is a therapist specializing in narcissistic personality disorder or a Facebook group of daughters of narcissistic mothers or both, reach out for support.
- Take your focus off trying to change the narcissist and put it on your recovery. You can not change the narcissist, but you can waste years of your life suffering unnecessary pain hoping and trying. Your focus now is healing and taking care of yourself. You have been through a lifetime of abuse and neglect, but you survived. You have what it takes to heal. If it helps at first, try doing for yourself what you would do for a good friend in the same situation. Pretty soon it will begin to feel more natural until you have developed a new habit of taking better care of yourself.
- Anger. It is reported that up to ninety percent of depression is repressed anger. So do not keep stuffing it. Repressed anger is like trying to hold a beach ball under water. The anger may explode in unexpected places, behaviors or even physical illness. One thing is for sure, it will come out somewhere at some time. In the case of healing from a malignant narcissist, the truth may set you free, but it is going to cause you to be mad as hell first. Anger is a normal human response to hurt and abuse. So the anger is not wrong, it's what you do with it that can make anger healthy or destructive. It may feel like you are going to be angry or even enraged for the rest of your life, but you do not have to be. Once you process the anger in healthy ways, you can be free of it.
- Exercise. Once you get in touch with the anger it can feel overwhelming and even frightening. However, it is a necessary part of the healing process. Exercise is a great way to release some of the anger, as well as release pheromones to help fight depression.
- A chair for the narcissist. Another way to process anger in a healthy manner is to put two chairs face to face. Now sit in one chair and imagine your narcissistic personality disordered mother sitting in the other chair. Tell her everything you need to say just as if she was actually sitting in the chair. Be prepared because this can really get you in touch with your anger. It may sound silly, but it can really provide a huge release. This is for you, not her.
- Taking B12 supplement. Taking B12 supplements is the fastest, easiest thing I did for myself and with great results. My doctor told me the years of stress had depleted my B12. Methylcobalamin is the neurologically active form of B12 that exists in nature. The Cyanocobalamin form is not found in nature. B12 is a water soluble vitamin, not fat soluble. Water soluble means you can not overdose on B12, it will be flushed out of your body. (Natural News) Talk to your doctor first.
- Start a recovery journal. I have been keeping a journal for as long as I can remember. It is very helpful in processing and validating your thoughts and feelings.
- If you have repressed memories, that was your mind protecting you. I was instructed not force or prevent memories from coming up. They often come to the surface when you are ready to deal with them. I found a journal to be particularly helpful during that time.
- Get plenty of sleep. Recovery is hard work. It can be exhausting. Dealing with a narcissist is totally exhausting. No one can function well without proper sleep. Remember, this is about taking care of you now. Also, your mind is just as active in REM sleep as it is when you are awake. Keeping your journal and a pen next to your bed can be helpful if you wake up in the night or in the morning with something heavy on your mind, a solution you had not considered before, another incident you are remembering, etc.
- Take time to get to know yourself. You have likely spent so much time and energy focused on the narcissist that you may not even know who you are or what you enjoy. Try new things. Find hobbies you enjoy. You are going to be your new best friend.
- Pay attention to your self-talk. Whether it is out loud or in our mind, we all talk to ourselves. Have you internalized negative messages from your mother? Start paying attention to the things you tell yourself, then start telling yourself encouraging things. Your malignant narcissist mother may have recorded the tapes in your mind, but you can record over them with some time, consistency and effort. Start telling yourself the truth about yourself and your situation.
- Discover and develop hobbies, skills and other activities to build your confidence. Narcissistic mother spent years destroying our confidence while convincing us of her false image of us. Most things in life require confidence, so discover your natural talents and things you enjoy to restore your confidence.
- Refuse to have anymore one-way relationships. Build reciprocals relationships.
- Develop a spiritual relationship with God. It is normal for a child to grow up attributing the characteristics of their parents to God. A hallmark characteristic of a malignant narcissist is an unwillingness to submit their will to a higher being or ideal. An important part of healing and emotional health is to develop a spiritual life. Separate your image of God as being like your parents. Submitting yourself to God, your higher power or a greater good is a hallmark of mental health. (Peck)
- Eating right is also an important part of taking care of yourself. Give your body what it needs to stay healthy during this stressful time. Learn about proper nutrition and try new things. Learn How to Use Food to Maintain Mental Health.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is often reported by daughters and sons of narcissistic personality disordered mothers. After years of dealing with my narcissist mother, I had a severe vitamin B12 deficiency. I had had it for years, but I had no idea. Some are suggesting B12 even cured their OCD, but I have not seen a well documented report yet. So I do not want to claim that with certainty, but if you suffer from OCD it is something to be aware of and follow.
- Panic Attacks. Panic attacks seem to be very common in children of narcissistic personality disordered parents. It makes sense due to the conditioning that occurs as a result of growing up in such an environment. I have read many articles from various sources that explain panic attacks as 100% stinking thinking, but I am not so sure I agree with that. I am not a medical doctor, but I do know my own vitamin B12 level was depleted, which was a physical factor. Actually, it was so depleted that the doctor commented to me something to the effect that I would have had to have been under severe stress for 10 years for it to have gotten so low. Being a narcissist's scapegoat is stressful! Your nervous system requires B12 to function properly. I had increasingly severe panic attacks for more than a decade, but I have not had one for nearly a decade now. I have also not been on any medication at all. My panic attacks completely stopped after my mother's death, at which time I also started taking B12 and went to therapy for a year. So if you suffer with panic attacks, there is hope.
- Movies Featuring Narcissists. It really helped me in the beginning to watch movies with similar characters. I had gone more than 40 years of my life without anyone in my life who had ever dealt with the same situation or truly understood. Unfortunately, that is not rare for scapegoat daughter or son of a malignant narcissist. Sometimes these movies can be instrumental in helping you explain your situation or past abuse to loved ones.
- Examine your responses. Once you have done some of the other work, begin to take notice of your responses. Are you highly reactive? Ms. Fix It? Look for magical thinking, denial and minimizing unacceptable behavior. You want to address these so you will not turn around and become an inviting Echo for any other narcissistic personality disordered person.
- Learn to have fun. We adult children of malignant narcissists have been carrying more than our fair share of burdens and may have to learn to have fun. Make a point every weekend, for example, of spending some amount of time just doing something you enjoy. If you do not know what you enjoy, try some new things until you discover things you enjoy. It will give your mind a rest and help rejuvenate you.
In my experience, this is an accurate description of the beginning stages of the recovery process. For me personally, it has been well worth the effort!
I am not a licensed social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. I write based on more than 40 years as the scapegoat daughter of a late clinically diagnosed narcissist, therapy, many discussions I have had with other ACON and extensive reading. Nothing contained in this article is intended to substitute for professional advice from a qualified professional.
*This article was originally published on HubPages on February 26, 2013, during which time the following comments were made:
Well done! Voted up.
Thanks for reading, commenting and the vote up. I have read some of your work, krillco.
Your obvious hard work has certainly paid off here Gail and I vote up and share all around.
Very interesting indeed.
A comprehensive piece and after reading this I believe my own Mother was a Narcissist at least in part. She believed that no one was good enough; to come into her house, for her to be friends with, for me to go out with. She also moaned constantly that we didn't have stuff that others did, always wanted what she couldn't have i.e. aspired above her means. I will read this again and have bookmarked it. Interesting and well researched.
Thank you for the vote up and share, Eddy.
Thank you, Bumpsysmum. I just see and read so much about narcissistic personality disorder and the damage it causes, but so little about recovering from it. It is work, but healing and wholeness are possible.
Great hub Gail, full of good information which hits the nail right on the head and plenty of good advice too.
The divide and rule tendency is very accurate as are your astute observations on the effect on different generations, cousins, grandchildren, in addition to the divide created between golden child and scapegoat. I can well relate. Sigh...
Thank you for sharing your wisdom on how to positively move forward from this background.
Thank you, Sparkster. I appreciate you reading and commenting.
This was a very interesting hub. My own birth mother could easily fit the description a narcissist (even though it doesn't mean that she IS one mind you). She, as far as I know--haven't seen her in 15 years and hadn't spoken to her in 10--is an alcoholic and thought herself as a good mother.
Thing is that she often used my sister and me (completely refused to acknowledge my half-sister) as pawns in some half-baked scheme and she had allegedly assaulted my stepmother at a restaurant. I could go on forever about the woman, but I'll cut it off here (and make into another hub). What helped me started to heal was a writing project that I had in college. We had the option to write whatever we wanted as long we could somehow connect it to one of the stories we read. I wrote about childhood abuse. The floodgates opened and here I am. I really connected with this hub, Gail, and I am also in agreement that healing is possible. Great job!
writinglover, I'm sorry to hear about your situation with your mother. I think you are right that writing can really get you in touch with your emotions and be extremely healing. It gets the emotions out, somehow validates them because they are now in writing and helps process them too. I have had a journal for nearly as far back as I can remember. I am glad you connected with this hub. I am curious now to check out some of your hubs. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.
Ebonny, I'm sorry you can well relate to the devastation a narcissistic personality disordered mother can have on future generations. It is not a pleasant thing to watch or experience. There were five generations alive in my family at one point in time, so I can see the ripples far and wide.
The divide is the worst between the scapegoat and golden child, but it is far from limited to it. What is so amazing is that someone could leave such a long, wide, consistent trail of destruction and still have flying monkeys in their pretend world gleefully singing their praises. Thank you for reading and commenting.
I have a family member that I'm sure is narcissistic. Nothing and no one is ever good enough for her. Voted up.
I love this article. After reading Dr. McBride's book I am so happy to see that more people are becoming aware of this issue.
Thank you, SimplyKylieC.
Bake Like a Pro
Very detailed and informative article Gail. I have to share this with my friend. She has told me so much about her mom who is narcissistic. Thank god I never experienced it. Voted up and sharing.
Your friend is fortunate to have a supportive friend like you who will listen, Bake Like a Pro. Thank you for the vote up and sharing.
Wow-my mom is the classic narcissist and I am 41 and still hurting and in therapy trying to recover. She will never, ever change and even makes the fact that I need therapy all about her. I am still vulnerable and have to spend a lot of time healing myself. It is exhausting! Thank you for all of the helpful tips.
It can certainly be exhausting, but it is effort well invested as opposed to the exhaustion of continuing to try to please or change a narcissistic personality disordered mother. I am so glad you are investing in yourself and healing. Your narcissistic mother making your therapy all about her sounds typical. Thank you for reading and commenting.
I never let my narcissistic mother take care of my children because of the way she treated me as a child and into adulthood. We visited her and my step-father off and on and the children were never left alone with her.
Going to church with her was about presenting perfection. We were dressed up to make her look good. I say this because the ride to and from church we were often cursed at. One Sunday after church when I was 8 or 9 I slammed my finger in the car door. It was cut pretty deep and hurt terribly. When she saw me crying she told me to stop my blubbering and get in the car. I took care of it myself when we got home. I have a half inch scar from it. I think she was mad because I made her look bad in the church parking lot in front of the other parishioners.
Your hub is so right on describing this awful personality type. Voted up and useful!
I think that was a wise choice not allowing your narcissistic mother to take care of your children. I can totally relate to your story about going to church being about presenting perfection. That is probably exactly what it was. I'm sorry you had a narcissistic mother. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Once again Gail, you hit so many disturbing points right on the head! I have to tell myself every single day to set boundaries, take care of myself, and protect my other relationships. My dad and both siblings have passed (due to the stress of living with her) so it is just me to take care of her. Thanks for sharing your experience for others to read.
Very helpful and informative hub about the narcissist mother. I was married to one and cannot imagine having a mom like this. Good for you on doing a lot healing and helping others! Thanks for sharing on such a hard subject.
I am sorry for your loss of your Dad and siblings. I know it can be hard work, but think it is great you are setting boundaries, taking care of yourself and protection your other relationships. Thank you for your comments, mvillecat.
Gail Meyers 3 weeks ago from United States Hub Author
Thank you, jseven!
I was the golden child in my childhood. As a result the relationship with my sister, the scapegoat, has never been very deep. I always thought she hated me, and she actually told me that too. Our mother's manipulation had caused that. Therefore I believe the whole golden child/scapegoat thing is to mirror her good and bad side, but it is also to destroy the relationship between siblings. Then she has more control.
I'm so glad that I found out what was wrong with my mother last year. I have come a long way. I also told my sister and thankfully found a website in our mother language about the topic.
I was 13 years old when my mother put me on the street (literally). Of course I turned from golden child to scapegoat. As the author said, it is always all about her, she doesn't love the golden child either. Many years later I had contact to her again. Just trying to get to know her, find out how she feels about what happened. Many get an apology (yeah right!). She was a cold, self centered person who was hard to be around. When she visited me here in the US she said something hurtful almost every day. After the visit we exchanged some emails and I decided to go "no contact". That was 2007.
In 2012 I found out about narcissistic mothers and knew I made the right decision. Ever since then I went through an emotional healing by thinking about the past a lot. Going through a lot of anger and I am now at a point where I don't think about her that much, she is a sick person and will never change. After all it was maybe good that I wasn't around her more years.
Oops, a typo!
That is: MAYBE get an apology (yeah right!).
All the best,
Yes, then she can reject the scapegoat as if purging her own bad. I am sorry for the hurt and pain that must have caused you. However, I am thrilled you found relevant NPD information and that it appears you made healthy choices for yourself.
I absolutely think a narcissistic mother gains control by turning the siblings against one another. Of course, no one expects a mother to do such a thing. I definitely think the narcissistic mother wants to be the hub in the middle of the children. She used it for control, manipulation and punishment.
You may very well be right that it was a blessing in disguise that you were not around her more years. I wish you well on your healing journey. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts and experiences.
Blake Ashley Freedom
Gail, I CANNOT THANK YOU ENOUGH for publishing this. MY MOTHER IS A narcissistic personality disordered woman. She has never been officially diagnosed (because every therapist she went to, she manipulated into believing her children were the problem) but I almost died 2 years ago from Anorexia which I developed as a coping mechanism to her false world and the HELL I lived through. I thought I was CRAZY and delusional... until I got to treatment... and UNTIL THIS MORNING in reading this article I still thought I was "broken" because of all the mental chatter I am still working on settling -- but SEEING MY MOM ON THIS PAGE showed me that I AM NOT CRAZY, BROKEN or BAD -- I am a daughter of a woman suffering from a VERY serious mental disorder. IT ALL FINALLY MAKES SENSE. I cannot thank you enough. I would LOVE to fly to wherever you are and buy you a cup of tea -- where do you live? I'm in San Diego. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!! This article just change my life! Big Hugs!