Updated: Feb 2, 2021
A couple of weeks ago, I talked to my therapist about the unicorns. For those of you who do not know who the unicorns are, I refer to the self help group for adult children of narcissistic parents I am participating in. For more information please check out my post The last Unicorn.
Well, I told my therapist, that I didn't know whether I belonged to the unicorns or not. Because really, this group is not about toxic parents in general but about narcissistic parents particularly. All I knew was that the stories the people there were sharing sounded so familiar to me. I could see in my therapist's eyes that a light bulb went on. He was all of a sudden so curious about the group which came somewhat unexpected. I have heard so many stories about invalidating therapists who blamed the victim. The child. Potentially me. Maybe you. I was frightened to even mention the term narcissism to my therapist. Guess what he responded? It was unbelievable... He told me that my mom sounded very narcissistic to him. Actually I always thought, narcissism didn't fit the picture too well, because my mother is just so fragile. I couldn't believe what was playing out right in front of me: my therapist proceeding to give me a lecture on covert (and vulnerable) narcissism! I really believed she was a borderline because of her fragility. Don't we all look for a label in order to make sense of the weird stuff, that happened to us? (I might have to pass this kind of a lecture on to you soon.)
It is so Much Worse - My Mom is Likely to Be a Narcissist
If she really is a narcissist, she won't ever change. She can't. Because narcs never do. Ever. Wouldn't that fit her pattern? She never did modify her behaviour. There was no progress there. Even though she's been in therapy. For full six years. And nothing changed. My therapist had just blown my mind. I mean, reading about narcissism is one thing. Getting it confirmed by a professional is a completely different story. Could this really be true? I did ask him if he was even able to make that kind of assumption. He hadn't met her after all. He said, of course he'd be unable to diagnose someone he hasn't met. BUT, there are certain patterns in behaviour of hers that according to the stories I have told him, are perfectly in line with narcissism. Well, fair enough. I guess, I have to adjust my website then. Here I am still in the process of learning.
If you grew up with an obviously narcissistic mother (and father - we have talked about that one) you are conditioned to minimize your pain. So you are used to minimize the impact of the conditions you had to grow up in. I was convinced it wasn't that bad. I was the bad one for making such a big deal out of this. My entire family had convinced me, I was too sensitive, too demanding, too ungrateful. But even though I have been suffering from depression for most of my life I thought it was somehow my fault. I might as well just be too weak. Until it get to the point where I wished I was dead. Because the pain had become unbearable. I seriously wondered whether or not my parents would realize they had made mistakes if I was gone forever. This had been a weak up call to me. This wasn't normal and I needed help.
Just guess how I felt, when my therapist told me that my story was the worst he has ever heard? My story was the one that touched him the most in all his years as a therapist. This isn't about bragging. This isn't about measuring one's pain. Which I do not believe in, by the way. The point I want to make is that I woud never have imagined that my story does even touch "bad" remotely. I mean, my parents have always put a roof over my head, they fed me, cothed me and made sure I got the appropriate schooling and okay grades.
Obviously we sometimes need a reality check. Because my story is bad. I had to grow up with self-absorbed parents who only cared about themselves and regarding their daughter, well, it was all about my appearance. How I could make them shine. My mother even admitted that to me. More than once. Apart from that, I had to be quiet. None of my emotional needs have been met. Ever. In fact, up until very recently I seriously believed, that I was not allowed to have emotional needs. Because I am worthless. What a rediculous believe to have. I know that now.
Where Do We Go From Here?
An honest answer would be, that I don't know. You can't unsee what you have seen. You cannot unknow the ugly truth you already faced. I have no love left for my mother. This is the truth. Where I should feel love for my mother is only a deep longing and lonliness. However, my brain does not associate my strong desire for a mother with the one who gave birth to me any longer. My brain appears to be rewired in that area. When I think about her now, my heart rate increases, my blood pressure goes up, I feel a wave of anxiety crashing down over me. In a nutshell, my body and soul are put into a state of distress when a thought about my mom crosses my mind. Obviously this is not how you are supposed to feel, when you think about your mother. However, given how much this woman has hurt me, it is only a natural reaction. A reaction to emotional abuse, invalidation,manipulation and neglect.
Lately I couldn't stop asking myself if she really could not have helped it. My therapist and also the unicorns pointed that one out to me. If I have the possibility to make changes in my behaviour through working on my psychological state, then so does she. But actually, I am not so sure about this. Aren't there people out there who truly would fall apart if they acknowledged what they have done to another human being? I don't know. The truth is, that I myself have been heartless at times. I was cold for a very long time. Many times I have not taken other people's feelings into account. Not because I didn't care. But because I had the strong urge to protect myself. Did I hurt people? Yes. But here is the deal. I didn't know better. I honestly believed, I was the only person suffering so much and that other people had the capacity and obligation to take care of me. I acted on my feelings. On my trauma, essentially. Then I came across the concept of personality disorders and trauma.
Untreated Trauma Shapes Every Aspect of a Human Being
As I started to see what I myself was doing, I stopped. At the time I was educating myself on narcissism and was therefore seeing narcissistic fleas in myself. The process of discovering the trauma, betrayal and abuse my parents both had inflicted on me was beyond painful. But at the same time, something miraculous happened. I started feeling more empathy for others. Simultaniously, I worked on fostering compassion for the suffering of others in myself. I changed a lot. Automatically. In an instant. Just by feeling my own pain. Just by seeing the truth.
So I wonder, whether people like my mother just do not see the hurt they cause, like I did not see that myself, or if they just do not care. We will never know, would be the answer. I guess where I draw the line is how they respond to us pointing out the pain their hurtful behaviour is causing us. If they play the victim and instead of taking responsibility shift the blame onto us, then there we have our answer. They probably are not interested in changing. In having empathy. In being a decent human being and parent. This might not mean they can't change, although it could mean exactly that. We will never know. The outcome will always be the same. We get hurt. Therefore, why they do what they does not matter. In order for us to be decent human beings we have to ackknowledge our own pain and heal our trauma. I can speak from experience in that area. For me, this means I have to distance myself from my mother. I cannot heal past trauma while I do allow her to continue to hurt me. This I believe is what my nervous system is trying to tell me, when it goes into alert mode whenever I think about my mom.
Mourning the Pain of the Betrayal Actually Does not Kill Us
What also is important is to sit with is our uncomfortable feelings. Pushing them down can lead to tremendous pain, anxiety and depression. Sometimes I cried for several days in a row. At times I was afraid I would never be able to stop, or the pain would eat me alive. I was able to stop crying. At some point anyway. I needed several months to get to that place, though.
And just when you think, it slowly gets better, it hits you all over again. And that is okay. Bad days belong in the picture just as good days do. Acceptance is key to healing, I discovered. The group leader of the unicorns recently said to us, that we need to mourn something that profound for quite some time. Something that hurt so much and so long needs to be grieved accordingly. However, if it hits me now, I noticed that it does not stay with me for that long anymore. I might fall into depression for a day or two. But I will find meaningful things to do for myself to drag me out of the hole. I focus on my studies, I connect to friends. I turn to the nourishing people in my life for support. And I concentrate on the aspects of my life that I have control over, rather than falling into helplessness and despair. I strongly believe that crying for so long had helped me to get to that place. This might be ambiguous advice from someone who is only half way through healing. But let me tell you this: Running from pain is not going to save you, nor does it make the pain go away. When I first read that facing one's pain is key to healing, I wondered how this would ever be possible for me. Well, the riddle solved itself for me. The pain got too intense to run from it. Somehow, at some point I was done being paralized and decided to get help. And to write about my healing journey. Let me tell you, that there is help out there. You only need to ask for it.
Thank you so much for reading! I am sending all of you many hugs! Know that whatever you are going through, you are not alone!