You Still Have the Opportunity to Make It Right! – by Olivia Hayward

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.

I Am the Daughter of a Narcissistic Mother by Olivia Hayward

Olive Hayward MonogramI am of the opinion that in therapy, one should go from the point one is at and move forwards. I don’t think that dwelling on the past moves one forwards. It has its place, but ruminating on former times can be destructive.

So it was in this frame of mind that I sat across from my therapist and asked her what value talking about the past had. She responded that it can help to find out what the source of our issues are and agreed with me that it can be useful to move a person forwards, but it isn’t a good place to stay.

So feeling satisfied about this, I said ‘Let us go there briefly to say that we have done it.’ I had long felt that I had processed the past and had wrapped it up in a nice little parcel. I didn’t want to waste time or money going through that again when I felt comfortable with my past.

From the time that I was a teenage until I was in my early twenties, I had had a chip on my shoulder about my parents, their behaviours and their treatment of me. I am sure that most children get to an age when they suddenly realize that their parents aren’t the perfect people that we think they are as small children. It came as a great disappointment to me when I got to that age and my parents fell off their pedestal. Moreover, I was dealing with parents that drank two litres of wine or a bottle of Scotch at the weekends; shouted at each other a lot of the time; and were highly critical of us kids and unavailable to us.

As I started into my twenties and I was able to separate myself from them both figuratively and physically, I came to the conclusion that I could still love my parents in spite of their behaviours. I could love them and not what they did. This helped me so much in being able to interact with them more positively. I realized that they were where they were at. We are all on a journey to grow and develop and all of us are at a different point along that spectrum. Understanding my parents within this paradigm helped me to forgive them and to accept them for who they were and to love them genuinely.

I did not want to have to revisit all those painful times in therapy when I had worked through them and felt good with my current perspective. However, I did want to know why I felt so empty and so depressed; so at a loss to make sense of the chaos in the world; why it was so difficult for me to stand up for myself; why I isolated myself from relationships; and why I regularly shut down in conflictual situations.

So the therapist and I started to review the events of my childhood. I spoke in almost a blasé way. As I wound down from my disclosure, my therapist posed the question to me, “Have you ever considered that your parents may be narcissistic? When people drink it can change their brains in a way that they can become narcissistic. Why don’t you check out this website WillIeverbegoodenough.com. “

I didn’t really know much about narcissism. I hadn’t considered it a mental illness. I thought it was when people thought too much about themselves. I never even considered that my parents could be narcissistic. I left the therapist’s office with the intent to look up the website and pushed the idea of my parents having narcissistic tendencies to the back of my head.

About four or five days later, I went onto the website. I found it rather hard to navigate. I read a few articles and then stumbled on one that hit me right between the eyes.

How Does Narcissistic Parenting Affect Children

I readily identified with the child described in this article. (As I plan to look at these traits in more detail in future articles, I won’t go into them at this point in time).

Suddenly the paradigm that I had framed for myself to function within my family started to crumble. I felt like I had had the rug pulled out from underneath my feet. I felt all the emotion that I had kept at bay by throwing myself into busyness descend on me like a ton of bricks.

Although I was pleased that I had finally found the key to my behaviours and the emptiness that I felt inside regarding my life, I was also dismayed at the chaos of emotions that cascaded down upon me. I also felt great guilt in pointing the finger at my mother as the cause of my dysfunctional self. I knew that it was my mother that was the narcissist in my life and my father probably drank as a way of coping. How hard is it to have to talk about one’s own mother in this way? How hard is it to know that the one person in your life who is supposed to support you and love you unconditionally was emotionally and psychologically abusing you?

Karyl McBride said “Being raised by a narcissistic parent is emotionally and psychologically abusive and causes debilitating, long-lasting effects to children. It is often missed by professionals, because narcissists can be charming in their presentation, displaying an image of how they wish to be seen. Behind closed doors, the children feel the suffocation of self and struggle with loneliness and pain. The narcissist is not accountable for their own mistakes or behavior, so the child believes they are to blame and that they flunked childhood.”

It took about three weeks for me start to figure out how I was going to interact with my mother again. I came to the conclusion that as this was a mental disorder, that I should treat my mother with kindness and respect. I was able to draw upon my prior paradigm again. I could still love my mother in spite of her behaviours. I love her – not what she does. She is where she is at.

This is what I shall use as I learn to find alternative ways of interacting with my mother. It is what I shall use when her behaviours provide the stimulus to my anger and to the feelings of not being good enough. Now I can learn to understand with new eyes, what behaviours are destructive, perhaps why my mother uses these behaviours and how I can heal from them even while being continuously subjected to them.

The journey of healing may be long and arduous. At this point in time, I don’t know what this journey looks like. But I am willing to share what I learn even though I feel vulnerable and overshadowed by the feelings of ‘Not being good enough’.

Olivia Hayward Signature

Olivia Hayward

My good friend, Olivia Hayward, has agreed to write a few blog posts for us. I have known Olivia for a number of years. I mentioned to her that I was working on learning some tools in therapy to conquer the issues that I face in the work place. She shared with me that she too was recently in therapy and had just learned that her issues were derivative of being a daughter of a narcissistic mother. She was willing to share with us her journey as she starts to understand this phenomena and how to move forwards.

I am so excited to hear from Olivia and am grateful to her for her willingness to share her thoughts and feelings! Welcome to Once Upon A Wren, Olivia!

Olive Hayward Monogram