As I write this article, I am processing my mother’s recent death and what it means for me. My inner child is asking for and needing attention. I am honoring my inner child.
I feel sad that my mother’s life has ended because now she has no more opportunity to heal, or attempt to heal, relationships that need healing. And there were many.
The morning after her death, the first thought to form in my waking consciousness was, “The big bad wolf is gone.” That tells me a LOT. My inner child finally feels safe.
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For decades I struggled physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally with the realization that I had a mother who chose solely minimal involvement with me since I was a child. She was often hurtful, spiteful, and mean-spirited. The continual emotional abandonment that I felt during those years was real. Throughout, I continually longed for and chased after her ever-withheld love, affection, and acceptance. I felt like I was lost in the woods, wandering a deep, dark, dangerous forest, unable to find my way home for so very long. Subsequently, I mourned the loss of my mother decades ago when she was very much alive. There are no more tears left to shed.
When I could accept that I was only as valuable to my mother as the things I could do or provide for her, I began to deal with the core problem: my codependency. Finally, I found the path and began reversing the codependent thoughts and behaviors. It literally changed everything.
If you’ve read my book Lemon Moms: A Guide to Understand and Survive Maternal Narcissism, you already know that my mother had many narcissistic traits. Among other types of controlling behavior, she often used fear of abandonment to manipulate me as a child. She threatened to give me away to strangers, put me in an orphanage, or send me to live with my father, whom she repeatedly said: “didn’t love us or want anything to do with us.”
And so, because I didn’t want to lose my home, I constantly feared doing the “right thing,” whatever the right thing was at any particular time. “The right thing” could and did change without warning, so I needed to remain constantly alert for changes in her tone of voice, behavior, and in our overall home environment. As a result, I learned to continually take her “emotional temperature” to keep myself safe.
My mom parented by blaming, shaming, intimidating, threatening, and physically punishing. In the earliest years, I learned that I was somehow to blame for everything that displeased her. Second-guessing and doubting myself became a way of life. I felt like a burden, believing that I made her life harder simply because I existed. I stayed out of her way as much as possible.
I felt lonely and alone because there was no one to talk with about this way of life. Most of the people I knew could only see my mother’s public “false face,” so they thought she was a wonderful mother and human being. Only those of us who lived with her saw both faces, the real and the false. Only those of us who lived with her experienced her true self.
My mother shared her thoughts and feelings with me in frightening, highly emotionally charged, biased, and inappropriate ways when I was a young child. Gaslighting and the resulting cognitive dissonance distorted my perceptions and reality. Her behavior initiated my codependency, and her words guaranteed it.
There were no boundaries in our home, but there was lots of name-calling, invalidation, uncommunicated expectations, and neglect. I stayed up as late as I wanted. I was expected to care for my younger siblings and was blamed and sometimes punished for their misbehavior.
I was not allowed to express my feelings openly, ask questions, or show initiative or curiosity. My emotions were discounted, minimized, or invalidated. Asking questions or taking action meant I was challenging my mother, and that was not tolerated. She rewrote my memories, and I was expected to believe her version. I was to obey, stay quiet and not question.
My mom called me hurtful names and obscenities, and at times, as a form of punishment, she ignored me, not speaking to me for days, weeks, or even months.
Reading, researching, and working with various therapists eventually led me into Narcissism Awareness Grief, a term coined by Dr. Christine Hammond. Narcissism Awareness Grief begins when you become aware of someone’s narcissistic traits and realize how they have negatively impacted you. Using this new lens; looking at my past in terms of my mother’s narcissistic traits, I re-examined my childhood experiences. I saw how those long ago, unhealed traumatic incidents affected my current adult relationships. I set out to learn the things I should have learned as a child, like how to trust, validate and affirm myself. Like how to calm my nervous system and stop the hypervigilance. I discovered and learned how to control my triggers. I healed my cognitive dissonance and C-PTSD symptoms and taught my inner child to trust. I replaced codependent coping and thinking with healthy coping and thinking. In the process, I discovered and uncovered my true, authentic self. I found my voice and finally spoke my truth without feeling shame. I felt whole and worthy for the first time in my life.
So as I come to terms with the finality of my mother’s death and the end of our painful relationship, I feel grateful for my recovery work, my therapists and teachers, my inner child, my higher power, and especially my authentic self. I know she will always be truthful, supportive, validating, and affirming. She will always have my back.
I’m here. I’m alive. I’m grateful. I’m ready.
Could you be feeling the effects of Narcissism Awareness Grief? Download the free chapter to find out:
from Lemon Moms: A Guide to Understand and Survive Maternal Narcissism
Tools for Healing
Learn about dysfunctional family roles
Understand the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse
Learn about setting boundaries
Learn about codependency and maladaptive coping skills
Learn about Narcissism Awareness Grief
Let go of what you can’t control using loving-detachment
Learn about expectations
Conscious awareness: Be aware and make conscious choices before acting. Self-awareness releases us from making impulsive and potentially damaging decisions.
Self-care: We are in control of ourselves, and no one is responsible for us but us. We can only choose to focus on and be responsible for ourselves, our own thoughts, actions, and behavior. We can change ourselves with patience, persistence, and practice. When we take responsibility for getting our needs met, instead of waiting for someone to change or meet our needs for us, we are healing.
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About the Author
As a result of growing up in a dysfunctional home, and with the help of professional therapists and continued personal growth, author Diane Metcalf developed strong coping skills and healing strategies. She happily shares those with others who want to learn and grow.
Diane is an experienced advocate, speaker, and writer on family dysfunction and narcissism. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Information Technology. She has worked in numerous human service fields, including domestic violence and partner abuse.
She has authored four transformational books about healing and moving forward, including the highly praised “Lemon Moms” series. This emotionally supportive collection explains maternal narcissistic traits and teaches how to reconcile past hurts to begin self-nurturing, healing, and moving forward.
The Lemon Moms series, as well as her other books and articles, are an aggregation of education, insight, and personal growth resulting from childhood experiences and her subsequent recovery work.
She writes about strategies for recovering and moving on from hurtful people and painful, dysfunctional, or toxic relationships on The Toolbox blog.
See what’s happening on her author’s site: DianeMetcalf.com
Learn about the Lemon Moms series: Lemon Moms
This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.