THE PRICE OF NARCISSISM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I found out late in life, in my 50’s, that my mother was a serious narcissist. As with many narcissists, she got worse as she got older. Her illness escalated dramatically after the death of my father, in 1981, and again when she got diagnosed with cancer in 1998.

I have read books and articles about narcissists and their children. My mother was a textbook case. And so was I.

I was brought up to be a satellite planet revolving around and dedicated to her sun. I was an extension of her. I used to think we were totally alike, that I was a clone of her. Until my first husband told me that if I were anything like my mother, he wouldn’t have dated me, let alone married me.

At one point in my life, I really needed her. And she wasn’t there for me – for selfish/narcissistic reasons. I had been in a sporadically abusive marriage to Larry, who was bipolar, for about 18 years. My mother told me she’d do anything to help me leave the marriage. She was there for me. That was apparently only true until it might cost her something.

Mom in around 1991

I had an opportunity to leave in 1991 but I couldn’t afford to. I needed help financially. I asked my rather well-off mother if she would put some money into expanding a one bedroom cottage on her CT property so I could move in with my kids. I couldn’t afford to buy a smaller place of my own because the mortgage on my big house was too high.

My mother had money to spare. But she claimed that she didn’t have the ‘cash flow’ to part with enough money to remodel the cottage. It wasn’t a good time for her. I then asked if my kids and I could move into her summer-house, which she used only part of the year. She said no because it wouldn’t be convenient for her. She wouldn’t be able to have sleepover guests, like she usually did, if we were using both extra bedrooms.

So I stayed with my husband for another seven years – a long time in the life of a child. When I finally could afford to leave, in 1998, my mother wasn’t especially supportive. She told me that she was sure I would go back to Larry, as I had twice before. Thanks, Mom, for the vote of confidence.

She was wrong.

Mom, me and Sarah at her Bat Mitzvah in 1998

Five months after Larry left, I met a wonderful man online, Tom. Tom and I hit it off immediately and quickly became a couple. He is a sweet, easy-going, smart, funny and very supportive person. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He was the perfect antidote to Larry. Tom loved me, respected me, treated me like a queen and gave me the space to be me. My kids and all my friends loved him and saw that he was perfect for me.

Everyone saw it — except my mom. She couldn’t be happy for me. From the start, she didn’t think Tom was high-brow enough for me. He didn’t make enough money. She felt he didn’t have an ‘important’ enough job. He was a director at CBS television news. Everyone else thought he was a rock star. He met every politician and celebrity who was interviewed on TV for twenty years. He put the news on TV every night. But he wasn’t a ‘professional,’ so he wasn’t good enough.

His other major shortcoming, in my mother’s eyes, was that he wasn’t that into her. She actually said that he wasn’t right for me because he didn’t make enough effort to get to know her — and ingratiate her! She wanted him to call her. To have a separate relationship with her. She wanted him to praise her effusively and ‘pick her brain’. He was polite to her, but wasn’t all that impressed.

Even if he had been, he’s not an effusive person. My mom wanted him to be devoted to her as well as to me. That wasn’t going to happen.

Tom and me in 2001

My friends and I tried to point out to her how good Tom was for and to me. But she couldn’t see it. She kept comparing his behavior to her with her own close friends’ behavior to her and finding him lacking. But he wasn’t her good friend. She missed the point that he was my boyfriend, not hers. She should have judged him on his behavior to me, not to her.

She started trying to turn my friends against Tom. She’d tell me that someone had agreed with her and didn’t like him either. But when I confronted the friend, they would swear to me that they had defended Tom but that they hadn’t been able to get through to her.

When Mom died, in July of 2002, Tom and I were planning our wedding for that November. We didn’t tell her and hadn’t planned to invite her to the wedding. After she died, we found out that she had asked a friend of hers to say something against Tom at her memorial service – which she provided for, in detail, in her will. I almost canceled the Memorial entirely. However, I talked to the friend in question and everything went fine. He had no intention of saying anything. Everyone understood that Mom was removed from reality.

Toward the end of her life, I avoided talking to her about Tom at all. Right before she died, she wanted to ‘clear the air’ about Tom and explain her position one last time. I didn’t want one of our last conversations to be bitter and antagonistic. She was on heavy drugs. So I told her that we had already had the conversation and that everything was fine between us. She believed me and was relieved.

Mom and me a few months before she died in 2002

I’m so glad I did that. She died at peace and I wasn’t in a fuming rage after her death. However, it took me a long time to get over my anger and resentment over our last few years together. It was more than a year before I could start to mourn the woman I had loved so much in earlier years.

Looking back, Mom’s behavior can easily be explained as classic narcissism. The problem is, putting a label on someone doesn’t help you deal with them. There are no treatments or cures for narcissism, in part because the narcissist will never believe they have a problem. Everyone else is the problem, not them.

I wish I could erase those last three and a half years with Mom from my memory. I can’t. The best I can do, is attempt to put things in perspective. To understand her illness and forgive its victim.

16 thoughts on “THE PRICE OF NARCISSISM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

    • Thank you. Tom has really been my Karmic reward in this life! It’s too bad my mother couldn’t see and share in my happiness.

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    • A lot of what we used to call character traits or neuroses, are now being revealed as physiological illnesses. SOme can be treated and others, like narcissism, can’t,

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  1. I had a narcissistic mother, too. Everything that happened everywhere — everyone else’ happiness — was an affront to her and, somehow, at her expense. She was an awful person and I do not mourn her at all. I have realized that I loved her; I have seen the genuine hardship in her life and I feel/felt compassion for it, but that’s as far as I can go. She was mean, dishonest, manipulative and sadistic. I read a meme on Facebook not long ago that said, “The first person you will meet in Heaven is your mother.” I thought, “I’m not going there.” And laughed. 🙂 I think it is — as Marilyn said — much more common than it’s supposed to be.

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    • Your mother, Martha, sounds like a monster. Easy to hate. My mom was charming and warm and magnetic. Until she devolved late in her life, she was very hard to hate. And she rationalized her narcissism so well! You almost believed that it was okay not to go to your best friend’s husband’s funeral because funerals were difficult for YOU. Also, I was lucky. The narcissism was under control when I was growing up. So I got more of the energetic, delightful person and less of the crazy one in my early years. I only got the full brunt of it in her later years.

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      • Same here. Until I was a teen and young adult I think she was a good mom. Also very charming and funny (to other people). She became an alcoholic and I don’t think that helped. I never hated her, but I feared her. On some level, I still do

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        • It’s great, Martha, that you have such a good perspective on your mom. She sounds like a difficult, complicated woman who ran hot and cold to you. I’m sorry you still fear her. That must be uncomfortable.

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    • When my father finally died — five years ago now? — everyone was waiting for me to mourn. I kept doing little touch tests, like you might on a bruise — to see if I hurt psychically. I didn’t. I haven’t. I actually feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I feel like, however awful he was, I should have at least cared when he died, but I didn’t. I think, sometimes, enough really IS enough. And, you are right — feeling this way is a lot more common than people think it is. I know a lot of people, men and women, who disliked or hated one or both parents but these days, sentimentality is so pervasive that we aren’t allowed to say it without someone saying “but you must feel SOMETHING.”

      Relief that they are gone? That’s something.

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      • I don’t miss the mother I had for the last few years of her life. I do miss the person I grew up with, who I was so close to for so many years. But she was gone long before my mother died. So her death hurt, but not as much as it could have. I had already mourned the loss of the mother I had loved in years past.

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  2. On another occasion, I think you mentioned that your mother had a lot of health issues early in her life. She was literally fighting for her life. I can see a reason for narcism to develop. But when you needed her the most she wasn’t there for you and that has to hurt. It also cost you years of your life in a bad situation. But you came out okay, Ellin, more than okay, you have the love of your life.
    Leslie

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    • I am in a good place now. But that doesn’t excuse my mother from putting me in a very difficult and unpleasant situation for so many years when she tried to discourage me from the love of my life. OR from her refusal to let me leave an abusive marriage years before I finally did. Looking back from this wonderful place I am now, I can forgive. But there was a lot to forgive.

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  3. That is so sad that she wouldn’t let you and her own grandchildren move in, We have had several of our family members live with us over the years. Many times, not really wanting to, it is just the right thing to do. Thank goodness you have Tom to show you how it feels to be cared about.

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    • Mom wouldn’t let me live in a house that she only lived in three months of the year plus some spring and fall weekends. She wouldn’t have had to deal with us under foot all the time. It seemed like a perfect solution all around. But she wouldn’t even subject herself to some slight inconveniences. She also told me that her cook would object to me having the run of the kitchen when she was there! That’s a good reason to turn your back on a daughter in need!

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