“Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change” -Frank Lloyd Wright, Michigan Daily, 1998
After figuring out that my mother was a narcissist, I felt immediate peace. I had been surviving in a battle for so long. I was relieved to know that there was a real problem, an identifiable diagnosis, and a possible solution. However, since the weeks and months that have passed since my discovery, I still feel like I am back in the quagmire. Setting boundaries has been hard, but very effective. Knowing always what to do next doesn’t come so easy. But living with the limitations that will always be present is still very excruciating. I had hoped that the original diagnosis would be a panacea to the problem. Yet, there is still a void and many limitations on our relationship.
Again, the biggest problem that I am faced with is accepting the limitations of my mother, and frankly, myself. In asking the question of living with someone else’s limitations, don’t you have to fully and objectively audit yourself? Where are my blind spots?
“Processing or grieving is different than merely describing or telling your story. In order to grieve first you have to stop denying reality and begin accepting the truth. Accept that your mother lacks the capacity to offer the love and nurturing you need” ( Dr. Stephanie King: Acceptance, The First Step Toward Healing for Children of Narcissitic Mothers, www.drstephaniekingpsy.com, July 19, 2016).
Is my mom secretly writing a blog about me? What am I good for? What am I especially good at? (Sorry, I know I am not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition, but it just sounds better).
I have learned that my mother’s specialty is criticism. Her power comes from domineering. She is kind, considerate, and compassionate, especially if someone is watching. She is horrible at listening.
“Often the narcissist parent will mock the child, as they are having feelings, or interrupt the child as they’re speaking, so the child never gets a word in edgewise, they can never feel heard, they can never feel seen” (Victoria Lorient-Fabish, Visualization Works Narcisstic Parent: Collateral Damage Aug 8, 2010 Moving Beyond the Childhood).
She is untrustworthy, and she uses guilt to manipulate. Yet, if you were to ever confront her, challenge her, or provoke her … watch out! That’s one beast I would rather not fight.
Now to me. What am I good at? I am good, or at least better, at listening than my mother. I consider trust to be the currency of any relationship. My worst fear is that someone would lose confidence in me or feel like I betrayed their trust. I feel that the only way to manipulate is really through persuasion and long suffering, constantly pointing out my counterpart’s agency and their free use of it. If I am offered criticism (constructive or otherwise) I try to really do my due diligence and see if there is truth to that person’s claim. I try to ask for feedback or for other’s opinions on how I can do better, or succeed faster. Sadly, I have found most people’s honest, frank evaluation of me to be less hurtful than my own mother’s. If service is rendered by me, I wish it to be secret, or anonymous, so that it can be accepted for merely what it is instead of other people’s perception of my service. I guess in honestly evaluating another’s weakness and limitations, I have to be willing to learn from their mistakes and avoid them at all costs. (Paraphrased by Brain Tracy, No Excuses: Relationship chapter).
One of the biggest turning points in accepting the limitations of a narcissistic mother is realizing that I will never receive nurturing from her in the way that I would like to have it. I do and can receive it from other family members and friends. But I will never receive it from my mom. This is both healing and hurtful. Since I can’t be truly nurtured from my own mother, I have realized that my own mother daughter interactions are really more like a quilt—patch-work to be exact. There are holes, rips, tears, and batting flying out of my motherhood blanket. I have done my best through the years to find the right pieces of eclectic mothering through pseudo mother mentors. Patching in the pieces, sewing memories, examples, and principles I would like to have one day with my own daughter.
Here are some of them:
Grace Kelly- Gosh I love her. Or at least what I think I know of her. She was always so glamorous and made everything so simple and yet elegant. She is quoted as saying that a dress should be short enough to show you’re a woman, but long enough to show you’re a lady. Where were you when I was growing up??? I really could have used your example of classiness and elegance. A true Lady. Or as my Scottish heritage would call her, “A Classy Lassie.”
My Best Friend-. She and I share so much. She is some sort of a genius, so I always depend on her for intellectual stimulus and great conversation. She provides an honest counterpoint to my most vexing issues. And she somehow knows when to be silent and listen. Most of the time, she somehow manages to do all of these traits simultaneously. It’s like she knows my mind, heart, soul, and spirit. She gives me confidence in every place where it is broken. She’s a real friend. Probably will never find one like her here or in the hereafter, she’s just that good.
The last professor I had in graduate school– He was truly a brilliant man. I am so thankful our paths crossed. He wrote on one of my papers that I should go to law school or pursue a PhD. I have saved that paper and memorized the scribbled note. He didn’t always agree with my work or my writing, but when and where I did something worthy, he praised it. Again, probably one of the first times I had a relationship with someone who was consistent and objective. If I gave him a crap paper, he’d call me out on it citing, “you can do much better.” Other times he said I should go to the next level, he even invited me into his seminar class with other doctorate students to present paper at a seminar. I hope someday I will get to make him proud with a law degree or a Phd. But for now, his words mean so much to me because of their authenticity and their honesty. It made it safe to revel in, and even enjoy praise when it came. I truly felt nurtured, praised, and like I made progress.
My 6th grade basketball coach– She happened to be my Latin teacher and I can still conjugate some Latin verbs, to this very day, due to her positive influence. The thing I most remember about her was she ran down the court, her infant in one arm, and she jumped up, caught the basketball with the other hand to complete a layup. I remember at the time thinking, WOW!!! Can I be you when I grow up? She taught me that it’s ok to be you, even through motherhood. And it’s ok to be both athletic and a woman, there should never be shame in being both. Her quote was always, “Confidence is the Key!” before any game you would find her shouting it.
Penny and Sonny Wren– These two are proof that guardian angels truly exist. They have offered to watch my kids (something my own mother detests) they have offered to help me, they have supported me, they have buoyed me up when I swear I about to go under. They have prayed for me, counseled me, and encouraged me. These people have no blood relation to me, and yet they have treated me with kindness I have never known. We became better friends through our mutual sorrows, and if that’s the only reason I was meant to have those sorrows, it has totally been worth it to have their friendship. I would pay that price any day to have them in my life in any form or association. They have helped me make a better quilt for myself, and they have not only patched up the holes, they are the very seams that run throughout.
All of these mentors and nurturers have helped me complete a better way for myself and my daughter to interact. They have shown me that is a better way. This new found hope has inspired me to do better than the pattern I was given. Hopefully I can be as honest with myself, as I had once wished my own mother could have been with herself.