A couple of weeks after I had found out that I was the daughter of a narcissistic mother, I had a phone call from an old work colleague. We had only really met each other one time although we worked together for about six years.
We had both flown into the States to attend work for a team building exercise one week. Barbara and I were staying at the same hotel. Barbara had hired a car and as we both liked to get an early start, we rode into work together and came home together each day that we were there.
One day, we went out to get something to drink for when we were back in the hotel. Barbara and I got talking about some deeper stuff as we shopped and drove around in the car. She told me that her mother had as good as abandoned her and her siblings. She had no maternal instincts she confided in me. “She was just plain mean and hurtful to us kids”, she said.
She didn’t say much more, but I always remembered what she had said to me. I had wondered often how a mother could not love their children. I adored my children. They were my life. Barbara also adored her children.
Together, on the phone, I asked Barbara if her mother was narcissistic. As I described some of the things I had learned, I could feel the excitement in her voice. I promised to send her some materials that I had read and she was excited to share them with her siblings who had been in therapy but unable to get to the source of their challenges.
Then Barbara said to me, “You are so lucky. Your mother is still alive and you can get some sort of reconciliation. I can’t get that.” At that moment, my heart sank. Not only was my heart filled with her pain of not having her mother around, for all her unfulfilled desires to be close to her mother, and for all the unresolved issues between her mother and her; but my heart ached for myself because I knew that it was not possible to have reconciliation with my mother – not the type of reconciliation that I longed for.
I gently explained to Barbara that because narcissism was a mental disorder that even if her mother was alive, that there would not be the reconciliation that she longed for. “I won’t get it with my mother either”, I said. “We have to accept that is where they are; that they are unable to be where we want them to be. That is the problem with narcissists, they aren’t able to love us as we want to be loved; they are unable to nurture us.”
In her book, ‘Will I Ever Be Good Enough?’, Karyl McBride, who is a therapist and a daughter of a narcissist, wrote about how she had approached her mother about writing the book. She told her that it was about mothers and daughters and how she would love her mother’s input and suggestions. She also asked her for permission to share some personal material. Her mother’s response was ‘Why don’t you write a book about fathers?’
Karyl would have really wanted her mother to ask things like “‘Are there some things we need to discuss or work on together?’ ‘Do you have pain from your childhood?’ ‘Can we heal together?’ None of this happened, but after all those years of my own recovery work, I knew not to expect her to be able to do this empathic inquiry”. (“Will I Ever Be Good Enough”, Karyl McBride page xx).
For Barbara and I, we need to face the facts that:
1. Our yearning for a maternal affection, nourishment, succoring and support is not going to be realized;
2. All our seeking, longing, hankering and desiring for things to be different is not going to change anything.
Barbara was still hoping for change when she said that I still have the opportunity to make things right with my mother. Mother cannot be changed; but we do have the opportunity to make things right for ourselves. The first step is to recognize and understand our mother’s limitations; and then to grieve the impact that they had upon us.