My mother was very clear about the kind of person she wanted me to grow up to be. She wanted me to have all the ‘good’ qualities she felt she possessed. The list is long.
I was to be kind, caring, considerate and giving; compassionate, empathetic and loyal; a good listener and good friend; sensitive to the needs of others, ‘there’ for family and friends and generous with affection, praise and support of any kind. Also honest, trustworthy, down to earth and non-judgmental.
Quite a tall order. But my mother believed she had all those traits so why couldn’t I have them too? A noble goal in life. This is the description of a wonderful person, the person I have always tried to be.
My mother often told me that she would always love me, but she would only want me as a friend as well if I became “her kind of person”. That put fear in my very soul. I wanted nothing more than the love and approbation from and lifelong friendship with this amazing person.
It wasn’t until my late 40’s that I fully realized the sham I had grown up with. My mom was a narcissist, possibly with borderline personality issues. As with most narcissists, she got worse as she got older. She ended up being self-absorbed, controlling and selfish. Everything had to revolve around her but everyone had to think that she was the virtuous person I described above. Her primary goal in relationships, including with me, was self promotion.
Mom gave endless advice to friends (she was a psychologist) but never talked about her own problems because she didn’t want people to know she had any. She was judgmental about everyone and everything but herself. Her life had to be perfect. She had to be perfect. I had to be perfect since I was a reflection of her. (She used to say that I was a clone of her and I was thrilled!)
When it came down to it, she gave very little to anyone that wasn’t comfortable, convenient and self-serving. Here is a graphic example. When I was 40, I had a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old. I needed her help to leave an abusive, bi-polar husband, who was also abusive to the children. Mom had repeatedly encouraged me to leave and had said that she would do anything to help get me out of my destructive marriage. When the time came, she refused to help me. She said she couldn’t help financially because it would put a strain on her cash flow. Alternatively, she couldn’t let me and the kids live with her in her SUMMER HOUSE in CT. because it would inconvenience her cook (we would be using the kitchen) and cramp her social life (we would be using her guest rooms).
She expected me to accept these as totally valid reasons for her ‘inability’ to help me. I stayed with my ex for another eight years.
The literature on narcissism says that most children of narcissists either become narcissists or become subservient enablers to narcissists. I didn’t realize it but I was groomed to be the perfect narcissist’s side kick — in my mom’s shadow and at her service. I became a satellite. A small planet revolving around her sun. Unsurprisingly, my first husband, though bi-polar, was also a narcissist. For 25 years, my mother and husband fought with each other — constantly — over who would control me and get my ultimate loyalty and devotion. Each devoted themselves to trying to get me to push the other out of my life. I was a human wish bone.
The silver lining in all this is that I became the ‘good’ person I was brought up to believe my mother was. On the down side, I’ve had to learn to be less selfless and stand up for myself. I’ve had to develop self-esteem and self-confidence. I’m just learning how to be there for other people while staying true to myself as well.
I can be proud of who I turned out to be, so I guess that’s my happy ending. I just have to learn to forgive my Mother for not being the person she claimed to be and who I grew up admiring and emulating.