Narcissistic mothers never really change.

I started this blog over four years ago partly because of my discovery that I had been spending more than five decades of my life trying to please and win the unconditional love of a mother who simply wasn’t capable of giving me that kind of healthy love a normal parent has for a child.    Emotionally, I was still a child trying desperately to please a parent who could never be pleased, and in fact, resented me because of who I was.

I went No Contact with her at the same time I went No Contact with my malignant narcissist ex husband.  During the first two years of starting this blog, I wrote extensively about both of them, and learned so much about myself and also how to heal from the narcissistic abuse both of them had inflicted on me.

Distance made me think over a few things.    I also came to understand exactly what a malignant narcissist is, and after some time, I realized my mother is not one.    Malignant narcissism is a mixture of NPD and Antisocial Personality Disorder with paranoid or sadistic traits.   My mother, while highly narcissistic, is not at all antisocial or sadistic, but she does check off most of the criteria for NPD (narcissistic personality disorder).  She also fits much of the criteria for Histrionic Personality Disorder.

Unlike a malignant narcissist, my mother does have a conscience and knows the difference between right and wrong.  She doesn’t “think like a criminal” and would never do anything illegal.  She has a sense of ethics.   She’s not sadistic and doesn’t enjoy seeing people suffer.  She likes animals and children.  She doesn’t have much empathy, even for her loved ones, but she isn’t the sort of person who enjoys watching others suffer or tries to cause them suffering;  she is mainly just cold and indifferent to the troubles of others, and fails to take responsibility when she has emotionally hurt someone.

Even so, as a parent, she was still very damaging.   Along with my borderline/narcissistic dad, who also was an active alcoholic during most of my childhood and adolescence (addictive disorders and alcoholism tend to exacerbate Cluster B personality types), there was lots and lots of drama, instability, fighting, screaming, accusations, gaslighting, hiding the truth from others, and abuse both physical and emotional while I was growing up, and it was mostly directed at me.  Needless to say, my growing up years were painful and traumatic.  As the only child in their marriage, I was constantly scapegoated and gaslighted and held to impossible standards, the implication being that I was never good enough and could never measure up.

Things could have been worse, but the damage was done.   I never felt like a full adult, and my self esteem took a beating.  I came to believe I wasn’t capable of very much in life.  My high sensitivity was used against me, treated like a defect or a weakness, instead of something that would ultimately become one of my greatest strengths.  I never really found my niche career wise, and I married an abusive, sociopathic husband who in many ways mirrored the emotional abuse I had suffered at the hands of both my parents as a child.

I felt especially uncomfortable, impotent, and childlike whenever I was with my mother, and this lasted into my fifties.  I’m not sure why this was so.  Perhaps because of my parents, she was the more narcissistic one, the one who seemed to always disapprove of me no matter what I said or did.   She would constantly gaslight me, give me “left handed” compliments that were really criticisms, find ways to embarrass or shame me in front of others (and then say I was being too sensitive or “imagining things” when I objected to this treatment), or blame me for things that weren’t actually my fault.   She never seemed to empathize whenever I was victimized at work or bullied at school and would instead tell me why I was bringing those things upon myself.

Going No Contact with her was necessary and freeing, and as I wrote about our relationship, I discovered many things about myself I never knew.   I discovered that I was not the failure and loser she’d always led me to believe I was, but my emotional growth had been stunted.   Anger followed but that passed.  Once it passed, I started to realize she was who she was because of the abuse she had suffered as a child.    I didn’t want to resume contact, but the more I read about narcissism, the more I realized she was simply a garden variety narcissist (which in a parent, is still very bad!) and did not meet the criteria for Malignant Narcissism.

For four years I avoided her phone calls (after awhile she stopped calling) and only sent cards on her birthday and Christmas.   But one day a few months ago, I took a phone call from her.   I figured it must be important since she rarely tried to call me anymore.  After all, she’s in her late 80s and it could be an emergency I needed to know about.   So I took the call (it turned out to be something pretty unimportant, though I can’t remember the specific reason she called).  She might have just been love bombing me, though there’s no way to know for sure.

Rather than tell her I had to get off the phone (as I would have earlier in my recovery), I decided to find a neutral subject that wouldn’t lead to an argument and we might be able to find some common ground on (a kind of grey rocking).  Since I was so caught up in (and disturbed by) the Trump presidency, I sent this up as a trial balloon and asked her what she thought about the latest debacle (which at the time was the cruel child separation policy at the border).   Politically,  we’re on the same side, and like me, she is horrified by Trump and what’s happening to this country (this is another way I can tell she’s not a sociopathic or malignant narcissist).   So for about half an hour, we actually had a pleasant (well, if you can call a conversation about the current political situation pleasant) conversation without any arguments or putdowns or gaslighting.    For once, I didn’t feel like a defective five year old.  For perhaps the first time, I felt like she was treating me like a fellow adult capable of thinking for myself.  It felt good!   We spoke for almost an hour, and right before we hung up, she said something she had never said to me before.

She said, “I have really missed you.  I love you so much.  You are such a good person.”

“You are such a good person.”   Whoa!  That’s simply not something a narcissistic mother would say to her child.   Nothing about my external appearance or my financial status, social class, worldly “success” or lack thereof.    Not only that, she sounded sincere, almost on the verge of tears.  I began to think that perhaps, I had misjudged her, and she wasn’t actually a narcissist at all.  Maybe she was just a borderline or maybe she had changed with age and was no longer a narcissist.

I didn’t speak to her again for another few months, but I began to toy with the idea of cautiously breaking my No Contact rule and going Low Contact.    It took me a long time to call her again, but the night before last week’s election, I finally shored up the courage to give her a call.

I decided to use the impending election as a way to start the conversation, since politics had worked the last time.    And it’s true we agreed about who we wished to see win the midterms and how much we both hated Trump and the GOP.   But this time the conversation wasn’t the same.   It felt forced and tense.   She kept interrupting me to say I was being too negative and dwelling on negative things too much, just like the old days before I went No Contact.   She seemed to want to change the subject, and kept asking me personal questions about myself.  I talked to her a little about the kids (her grandchildren) but when she asked me about myself, I clammed up.  I felt like she was prying and I didn’t want to tell her about myself (not that there’s much to tell).    Then she started saying she wanted to come visit me in the spring.  I don’t want her to come visit in the spring, or at all.   Just like in the old days, I felt diminished, put down, like a defective five year old again.   I realized nothing had really changed at all.

But that begs the question, what had made her say, with tears evident in her voice no less, that  I was a ‘good person’?  That’s just not something you hear someone with NPD say.   She seemed to mean it; I don’t think it was love bombing (though it could have been).    Perhaps for a fairly low level narcissist who isn’t malignant (but is still dangerous to others due to their disorder), the clouds occasionally part and they can actually see things clearly, the way they really are, without lying to themselves or others about what they see.     Perhaps she envies the fact I care about others, and am politically involved, and while normally such qualities might make her resent me,  at that particular moment, her guard was down and she realized she actually admired those qualities in me.

I’m pretty sure that on some level, my mother does love me.  At least I know she means me no harm.  And I love her too; she is my mother, so how can I not?    But the truth is, she is still a narcissist, and I simply can’t have any kind of serious relationship with anyone on the narcissism spectrum, especially someone I have so much unresolved childhood baggage with.   So it looks like it’s going to be just us exchanging cards on birthdays and Christmas, and we’ll see what happens as far as any future conversations go.  I just know for my own mental health, staying Very Low Contact is best.


20 thoughts on “Narcissistic mothers never really change.

  1. Great hearing about this Lucky! She’s not so bad after all. Surely something(low contact) is better than nothing. She even said something nice about you to you. And she is getting old. In her eighties she could in fact die and soon too. Keep that in mind, I wouldn’t want you to have any regrets. Maybe you should talk to her a little more than LC. Keep your guard up as a self protection. I don’t want you to get hurt either. As you know I’m living with my Mom and it’s not so bad. She can do annoying things or be childlike at times but I’ve seen evidence that she loves me. Sounds like your Mom loves you too:)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Ruby. I have a lot to think about. It’s true she’s getting up there, but I have to be careful to guard myself from backsliding into self hatred and doubt. Our relationship has always been difficult but maybe a VLC relationship can work.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s an important difference, the one between a person being simply limited in some way, and actively bad. I’ve never been able to place either of my parents clearly in any Axis-2 category (despite serious study of the DSM), but my mother did have poor boundaries where I, her only child, was concerned. I developed the stance early on of avoiding telling the grownups anything I didn’t need them to know. There were a lot of years of Low Contact.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sounds a lot like several issues I read in a book and finished yesterday: “Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents” by Lindsay C. Gibson. Some of what you’ve said (and what I read) resonate quite a bit. I don’t get what this issue is between us and our parents, and part of me can’t help wondering if maybe they’re looking for some sort of validation, like “I gave birth to you, so you owe me.” But owe them what? I’d love to know.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I identified with almost every word of this. My mother actually spoke of envy too. I found Lisa Romano quite helpful, she suggests limiting the topics of conversation-a kind of grey rock. I do find grey rock useful at times. My mother seems to recognise and occasionally even admire my abilities.
    I got fooled by a friend of my ex and she(my mother) told me she was surprised as I was normally more discerning.She seems to admire my ability to see through people. However she gaslights, smear campaigns me and generally puts me down. Yet on at least two occasions when my empathy has got me in a knot, I have turned to her and she has been almost instantly able to snap me out of it. I am trying to accept and love my mother for who she is . It is hard though isn’t it? I go grey rock for extended periods these days, if she crosses my boundaries and I have occasionally even gone no contact. I now try to show her what I will and will not tolerate. I shocked her a couple of years ago by light-heartedly joking about her gaslighting. I think it worked well. I tried gently to show her, I know your game but I love you anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your mom sounds a lot like my aunt B., my mother’s younger and only sibling. My aunt’s son, my cousin, is a licensed therapist. He told me that in his professional opinion, his mother is a narcissist. I agree that she is, but not a malignant one. My aunt is now in her late 70s and has severe dementia.

    My mother is 83. I made the mistake of calling her back in August, for the first time after several years of peaceful no contact. She had sent me a birthday card in May, which I held on to until August, when I finally decided to read the card. It was so sweet and loving and complimentary. Nothing about being sorry for all of her character assassinating lies, gaslighting, projection, and abuse, but otherwise a great message. So, I called the cell number she had written on the card.

    After about 15 minutes of friendly small talk, catching up with news, she hit me with the meanest, most hateful, evil, vicious, gaslighting, projecting lie that she has ever said to me in my life. And, considering all the many evil, vicious things she has said to me over the years, that’s saying a lot. It came from the pit of hell.

    Once a momster, always a momster. She is a sociopath, no doubt in my mind.

    My foolishness in falling for her nice birthday card and calling her, actually knocked my mental health back several notches. I made my blog private for awhile, unfollowed people again, came very close to deleting my blog and my Twitter account, too. I had my finger over the delete tab, I almost did it. I’m glad I didn’t, though!

    I have slowly started coming out of my shell again, blogging a little here and there, and going places in real life again. But just three days ago I saw a surgeon about 3 growths that have just appeared on my forehead and neck within the past month or so. The surgeon said, “Well, that’s cancer. I don’t want to remove it here, I want to do it under anesthesia in the hospital.” So now I am scheduled for surgery on December 6.

    You know what, Lucky? Until I read this post right now, it hadn’t occurred to me that there might be a connection between these cancerous growths, and my soul-killing phone call to my mother on August 3. The growths appeared around the end of October. I was so emotionally broken by what my mother said to me in August. Of course that would have messed up my immune system.

    Whew. Talking to these narcissistic mothers can be hazardous to your health!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. When I was pregnant with my second child, my mother sat my older child on her knee and said to him, while I was sitting next to her, “Your mother hasn’t got much to show for her life, but there’s still a chance she might do something with it.” I stood up and left the room to avoid the stress and caught her snarky. provoking glance on the way out. Another of her planned, rehearsed jibes designed to get a reaction from me. She was enjoying it. I need not go into an account of my childhod as most here would likely have endured something similar.

    I now have low contact, and it works best. If I start to feel any guilt, or soften my view, I remind myself of that particular moment, and it pulls me up. It’s not about anger or resentment, it’s about reminding myself about how strange she is, and how her disordered personality is unhealthy for me. I don’t smoke, hardly imbibe, eat very little sugar, try to get outdoors and live a healthy lifestyle, so why would I not limit my contact with a damaging narcissist?

    Low contact has the advantage that over time, the narc (hopefully) will adapt and get used to getting her supply from elsewhere. She might even boast about it. It’s easier for me nowadays because I migrated, and distance certainly helps. Grey rocking and sticking to bland conversation topics are also useful managment strategies.

    I am a language teacher and one strategy I gleaned from teaching English grammar is the use of question tags. I started using them about 20 years ago. If she was provoking me with a statement such as, “The government should do XYZ”, instead of replying with any views of my own, which would only be used against me at some point , I would say “should they?”. And leave it at that. ” Paying rent is throwing your money down the drain!”, “Is it?”. “I can’t stand Oprah!”, “Can’t you?” “Your hair looked so much better when it was long/short/bobbed/etc!,”, “Did it?”. This strategy was useful in deflecting her aggression and she eventually laid off the provocation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Low contact is sometimes the best option. In my case it is too. No contact isn’t always practical or desireable. The hard part is having the good judgment to know which is best.


  7. I’ve just found your blog and this post and I can really, really relate to it. I have been in therapy for approaching 5 years now and I have been able to pull away and individualise from my narc mother so much. She’s actually helped this process (unknowingly) because she decided my husband is public enemy number one a year and a bit ago for no reason other than she decided me standing up to her and confronting her on childhood abuse was him “brainwashing and controlling” me….

    Anyway, last week she randomly text and asked whether WE would like to have dinner with her and her husband…. it knocked me for six. I didn’t see it coming and wasn’t prepared for it whatsoever. It shocked me and confused me so much that I cried for about 24 hours…. anyway, I said no as it was my husband’s birthday that day and low and behold, she didn’t text yesterday on his birthday to wish him well (didn’t expect her to). What I struggle with is how I can be so educated on NPD and hoovering and love-bombing etc and yet still fall apart when she shows the slightest sign that she “might have changed” – surely I know better than that?!

    The other thing I wanted to say is, I know people mean well but I really hate it when people say your mum is old and she might die soon…. someone said this to me yesterday, “how would you feel if she died”….. I mean, it’s a shitty question because it’s guilt inducing isn’t it? This isn’t what I want things to be like – I would love more than anything to have a normal mother/daughter relationship…. but at what expense? Sorry, just my two pennies worth.

    I’m glad I found your blog, it’s really helpful x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi! I just approved your post, but haven’t had time to read it yet (other than the last sentence). I’ll say more later when I get home, but I’m glad you like my blog and find it helpful! Welcome.

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.