It’s incredibly difficult to manage a relationship with a narcissist, especially when that person happens to be your mom. For all the mamas out there struggling to end the cycle and be a mentally healthy mom for your kids after being mothered by an unhealthy person, I see you, and this post is for you.
My mom has struggled with severe mental illness most of her life. She had a nervous breakdown when I was young, and after that, she would go weeks without showering or leaving the house and often had scary outbursts of rage. I have emotional scars that will never heal from some of the things she said to me during her episodes. But I had never known anything else, and I always forgave her. She was my mom, and I loved her.
It was around the time I got engaged to my husband that our relationship really began to shift. Looking back, I recognize that’s when she started to view me as competition. I had “come of age” in her mind, becoming a threat for attention and status within the family. That’s when she began targeting me with her viciousness. As her marriage to my dad fell apart, things worsened. She began a pattern of starting horrible fights to get attention, usually triggered by feeling left out. I had to block her on social media, or she would blow up whenever she saw me doing something social. She felt she should be invited to every event in my life.
As the bitterness in my parents’ marriage deepened, they both descended deeper and deeper into mental illness. Family dinners were truly agonizing, with my parents sniping at each other as we all awkwardly tried to pretend everything was normal and fine until the whole thing would explode and turn into a screaming match. My mom was always the one to turn things nasty, pecking my dad with endless insults until he finally couldn’t take it anymore. Afterward, she would send us all novel-length text messages full of hateful comments and accusations toward all of us.
We began to see these texts as her attempt to erase our memory of what happened and rewrite a new version of the story in our minds. There was a clear pattern: 1) She would behave terribly and ruin whatever occasion was taking place; 2) She would send long, mean text messages after the fact trying to blame what happened on everyone else; 3) If anyone engaged with her at all, she would start an intense fight with that person and act so hurt and offended by them that they would end up apologizing for upsetting her, allowing her to act like she’d been the victim; and 4) Once satisfied with everyone’s attempts to get back in her good graces, she would act like the whole thing never happened.
There’s a lot I wish I could tell my younger self about dealing with my mom. If you’re still in the thick of this emotionally draining cycle, here’s some of the best advice I can give you:
Don’t engage with the crazy. Narcissists feed on energy; the more significant rise she gets out of you, the more fun it becomes for her.
You have two choices: Accept the crazy, or end the relationship. They will never change.
If you decide to stay in the relationship, keep your true self far away. Any real or vulnerable information about you or your life will be ammunition in her next attack. Try the gray rock method: be there physically, but don’t offer anything of interest to the narcissist. Be as interesting as a gray rock.
Block them from all your social media. If you can’t block their number or completely cut off communication, put their texts on do not disturb and don’t read them immediately. If your crazy sensor starts going off, hang up the phone or delete the message immediately. If you have to respond, keep it extremely short and don’t engage.
Know that you can always leave the relationship if needed. Even if others judge you for it, you are the only one who can decide what you need to do. Your mental health is the absolute top priority. Therapy will be your best friend.
It’s been more than ten years since my relationship with my mom turned toxic. I am still in her life and allow her to see my children, but I have no problem cutting off contact if needed and have done so many times in the last decade. Her abuse has killed any true love I felt for her, but she is still my mother, and I’m not willing to completely abandon her. If you make a different choice, I completely understand and respect the hell out of you.
When I was at a deep low in this journey, my best friend said something that completely changed how I viewed the situation. It was shortly after my first child was born, and my mother was in full-on attack mode because the attention was on the baby and me instead of her. I was crying on the phone, overwhelmed with the deep love I felt for my baby and a fresh wave of shock that my mother could ever have treated me the way she does. Seeing my beautiful, innocent baby and becoming a mother myself released an ocean of unresolved pain within me. “How can she treat me this way?” I cried into the phone. “She’s my mother.”
My best friend replied, “Maybe instead of thinking of her as your mother, you could just think of her as a person who is hurting.” And I realized I needed to let go of the perfect mother I had in my head, the fantasy of what I hoped our relationship could be. Every horrible thing she said had extra weight because that’s MY MOTHER saying it.
But she isn’t my mother. Not anymore. I have had so many true mothers in my life. My grandmother, the only example I had of stable womanhood. My mother-in-law, who has been there for me during some of my hardest moments. Close friends who’ve supported and encouraged me, helping me grow into the woman I am today. These women have given me their motherly love, opening their arms and hearts to help me heal.
I do believe that my real mother is still in there somewhere, even as the sickness has eclipsed her light. I am not angry anymore–just sad.
One thing I know is that this experience has made me a stronger and better mother. I will never treat my children the way she has treated me. I might not have had an example of good mothering, but I’ve built my own path brick by brick. I have become the mother I always deserved.