Healing from a Narcissistic Mother
|Echo by Alexandre Cabanel, |
Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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. So much of narcissistic abuse involves invalidation. Thus, finally finding validation is a big part of the healing process.
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 come to 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 so consuming for a season of time that it 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.
EmpowermentMany parts of the healing process are empowering, but after 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 better care of yourself. You shed the false image of yourself projected onto you. 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 finding 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, such as Dr. Linda Martinez-Lewi, who give 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. The last thing you need is a therapist who does not get it adding more invalidation. So, find someone who understands this disorder. Listen to your instincts!
There are groups and forums online for adult sons and daughters of narcissists, but be sure to do a search of reviews on the group first. This validation can greatly enhanced the healing process.
Will My Narcissistic Mother Ever Change?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 and start taking better care of yourself.
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? This helps clear the fog, as well as preparing you to recognize the maneuvers in the future.
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. Boundary work needs to be done even if you decide to go no contact with your mother, as they are important in every relationship. 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 first few 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 with a therapist or online group or both, find validation. If you join an online group or forum, check the reviews first.
- 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 by Dr. Paul Meier 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.
- Healthier Relationships. Refuse to have any more one-way relationships. Build reciprocal 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 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.
- 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 narcissist. Sometimes these movies can be instrumental in helping you explain your situation or past abuse to loved ones too.
- 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. When I first started setting boundaries all hell broke loose. However, for me personally, it has been well worth the effort!
*This article was originally published on February 26, 2013.