As Mother’s Day approaches we’re inundated with ads that encourage us to remember our mothers and celebrate the special bond between mother and child. While these commercials may seem heartwarming, they can be difficult for those of us who didn’t have the same kind of relationship with our own mothers. It’s important to recognize that not all mothers are loving and nurturing, and believing in the myth of the “saintly mother” can be a painful reminder to those who have experienced a lack of maternal love.
Every year, finding an appropriate Mother’s Day card was a source of stress and emotional turmoil for me and many adult children of narcissistic mothers. Today there is greater awareness and sensitivity around family dysfunction and the reality that not all mothers are loving and kind. It’s easier to find cards with sentiments that don’t feel like lies, but the task of choosing a card still remains a source of stress for many adult children.
It’s worth acknowledging that mothering is a learned behavior and that there’s a wide spectrum of maternal behaviors, from healthy to toxic. If you have a narcissistic mother, or one who is self-absorbed, lacks empathy, and manipulates her children, Mother’s Day may bring up mixed emotions for you. You’re not alone if you struggle with feelings of guilt, shame, or confusion when it comes to this day.
Healing Wounds of Maternal Narcissism
When I decided to actively pursue healing and personal growth, a therapist presented the idea that my mother may have an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness, most likely a personality disorder. This was exciting and validating news for me because I had entertained that idea for a while. As I came to grips with the impact that my mother’s probable mental illness had on me, I felt a range of conflicting emotions.
A Journey of Self-Discovery and Recovery
Dr. Christine Hammond, a licensed mental health counselor who works with exhausted women and their families, has coined the term “Narcissism Awareness Grief” (NAG). NAG acknowledges the loss of a mother’s love, warmth, interest, and connection and recognizes that our mothers’ narcissistic traits have negatively impacted us. Through this acknowledgment, we can work through the six stages of Narcissism Awareness Grief, to arrive at the final phase: Acceptance. Within Acceptance, we don’t continue the relationship as it has been. Instead, we accept the fact that our mother will not change, and we stop trying to help her to change. This gives us a tremendous opportunity to move forward.
When you fully understand and accept that you cannot change or control your mother’s perception of you, the ball is truly in your court. It’s from the point of Acceptance that your life can change. I remember very clearly what it was like to experience Narcissism Awareness Grief. As I slowly became aware of the effects that my mother’s narcissistic traits had on me, I felt a mixture of shock, denial, disbelief, and a sense of overwhelming sadness. But realizing that my experience had a name, Narcissistic Victim Syndrome, and that I wasn’t the only one experiencing it, was a massive relief. Narcissistic trauma and abuse are real things, and we can recover from them. When we do, we discover that there’s nothing inherently wrong with us that makes us unlovable, as we may have been led to believe.
A Third Option
Unfortunately, in a mother and adult child relationship, cultural opinions often place the blame on the adult child for any relational issues. This contributes to their becoming stuck in a cycle of self-blame and wondering if anyone can truly love them if their own mother cannot. And when it comes to relationships with narcissists, experts often suggest that we have only two options: live on the narcissist’s terms, continually seeking their withheld love, acceptance, and affection or go “no contact.” For me, going “no contact” felt like an all-or-nothing choice that left no flexibility. I believe we have a third option: identify complex trauma symptoms and work to heal them, refuse to accept gaslighting and disrespect, learn to detach, lower your expectations, and set healthy, enforceable boundaries. Those actions will help put the relationship on your terms, and will work towards shifting the power dynamics, diminishing her power to continue hurting, humiliating, invalidating, and rejecting.
If you’re interested in learning more, I wrote a book called “Lemon Moms: A Guide to Understand and Survive Maternal Narcissism.”
Transform Your Relationship with Mother’s Day
Because Mother’s Day can be a challenging time for adult children of maternal narcissists, I’m providing some suggestions that may help:
- Remember, it’s just one day, and you have the power to make it what you want.
- Consider a generic card or skipping the card altogether.
- Let go of expectations and focus on doing something you enjoy instead.
- Allow yourself to feel and express your emotions. Try journaling to help process your emotions.
- Shift your focus; try practicing gratitude, positive affirmations, some great self-care, or doing something kind for someone else.
- Consider seeking professional help if Mother’s Day triggers feelings that are hard to deal with.
- Find support groups online or in your area to connect with others who understand your experiences.
- Honor and express gratitude to loving and kind mothers or other women who have shown you motherly love.
- If you’re a mother, focus on yourself this Mother’s Day, celebrate your motherhood, and reflect on your values. Work to end the legacy of one-sided love.
- Work on your recovery to break the cycle of mistreatment or abuse.
- Acknowledge and support the healing journeys of other adult children.
More Tools for Healing
Traits of a Narcissistic Mother
When a Caregiver is a Narcissist
How to Talk with your Narcissistic Mother
Learn about Dysfunctional Family Roles
Understand the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle
Strategies for Family Get-Togethers
How Verbal Abuse Hurts Us in More Ways Than One
Healing Cognitive Dissonance
Learn the Gray Rock technique
More Resources You May Like:
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About the Author
Drawing from her personal experiences of growing up in a dysfunctional household, Diane Metcalf has developed effective coping and healing strategies. With the assistance of professional therapists and mindful personal growth, she has honed her skills and now happily shares them with others who are interested in learning and growing.
As an experienced advocate, speaker, and writer, Diane is well-versed in topics such as narcissism, family dysfunction, abuse, and recognizing warning signs. Her extensive knowledge is drawn not only from her personal experiences, but also from her work in human service fields, including domestic violence, partner abuse, and court advocacy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Information Technology.
Diane’s transformational books on healing and personal growth, such as the highly acclaimed “Lemon Moms” series, offer emotional support and guidance in understanding narcissistic traits and healing past wounds. Her approach emphasizes self-awareness, intention, self-care, and establishing healthy boundaries as essential components in the healing process.
Learn more about the Lemon Moms series: Lemon Moms
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This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.