I’m here to give you permission to not like your mother. If she’s mean. Or worse.
I know. I know. It sounds like heresy to say you don’t like your mom, but let’s be honest. Some mothers, especially abusive and narcissistic mothers, have earned the contempt of their children.
Just because a woman carries a child in her body for nine months, then delivers that child into the world, does not mean she is worthy of affection, respect, and admiration. Especially if she treats that child poorly—perhaps neglecting or outright abusing him or her—through the years.
Years ago when my mother was being unusually mean and manipulative, I bought and quickly read a number of books.
- Mothers Who Can’t Love* by Susan Forward
- Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Karyl McBride
- Toxic Parents by Susan Forward
- Emotional Vampires by Albert J. Bernstein—Though not specifically about parents, I found this book useful in multiple relationships.
These books helped me so much during that time.
In a recent Libera group, several ladies mentioned their own mother issues.
To help my friends who have a “mother wound,” here is some of the information I gleaned from reading the above resources.
The excellent book, Mothers Who Can’t Love, by Susan Forward, PhD, identifies five types of mothers who can’t love.
- The severely narcissistic mother (Her mantra is: “But what about me?”)
- The overly enmeshed mother (Her mantra is: “You are my whole life.”)
- The control-freak mother (Her mantra is: “Because I said so.”)
- The mother who needs mothering (Her mantra is: “I depend on you to take care of everything.”)
- The mother who neglects, betrays, and batters (Her mantra is: “You’re always causing trouble.)
The Severely Narcissistic Mother
According to Forward, “Narcissistic mothers don’t make us feel unloved because they love themselves too much. They make us feel unloved because they are so absorbed with making themselves seem important, blameless, and exceptional that there is little room for anyone else.”
When I took this online “narcissistic mother test,” I answered yes to most of the questions. Which surprised me. I knew Mom was self-absorbed, but I didn’t think of her as narcissistic mother. In fact, for a long time she was nice to me, nurturing.
Dr. Forward has an explanation. “A narcissistic mother with relatively few stresses in her life and loads of adulation from her young daughter envelops the girl in her world, embracing the role of teacher and idol. But as her daughter gets older, the mother begins to see her as a rival, setting off a pattern of criticism, competition, and jealousy that continues through adulthood.”
While I can’t say my mother’s life was without stressors, early in my life she was diagnosed with manic-depression, now known as bipolar disorder, her narcissistic tendencies increased dramatically when I married.
According to my friend Valerie who had a severely narcissistic mother,
“A narcissistic mother tends to have ‘a golden child,’ one child she clearly prefers and a ‘scapegoat,’ one she blames for all things negative.
Unfortunately for Valerie, she was the latter and subject to horrific treatment. As such, Valerie recommends counseling for all children of narcissists. And forgiveness. Through her faith, Valerie says she was able to forgive her mother and thus release herself from rage, hatred, and bitterness.
The Overly Enmeshed Mother
Dr. Forward says, “The enmeshed mother looks to her daughter to fulfill her need for companionship, give her meaningful identity, and provide vicarious excitement. You are her everything.”
This is an accurate description of my mom. I always felt responsible for her. Especially after my father passed away. At that point, I felt she wanted me to be her life partner: protector, best friend, therapist, and more. It was a difficult burden to bear.
“Enmeshed mothers are masters at using guilt.” —Susan Forward
This reminds me of a joke I used to tell about my mother. “My mother is a travel agent. She arranges guilt trips.”
The Control-Freak Mother
I didn’t think my mom was a control-freak mother until I remembered the time she loudly threatened—in a crowded restaurant, with several grandchildren present—“If one of my children doesn’t take me to Myrtle Beach, I’m cutting you all out of my will.”
Thankfully my oldest brother quietly informed Mom none of us need her money, and if she ever made a scene like that in public again, we would leave.
Boundaries with dysfunctional
mothers people are SO important.
Mothers Who Need Mothering
This is how Dr. Forward describes this kind of mother: “Whether she is depressed, alcoholic or addicted, or infantile, when she needs more mothering than she can give, her daughter finds herself taking on the role of parent, protector, and confidante.”
Forward says these particular mothers tend to: “…spend their days sleeping, complaining, watching TV, and drinking.” As a result, they leave their children essentially unmothered.
This was me. Many afternoons I arrived home from school to find Mom on the living room sofa, still in her housedress. Smoking cigarettes and drinking diet pop, watching television. Which is why I never brought home friends. Because my mother’s condition embarrassed me.
Despite my shame about our home life, I was not without compassion for my mother’s fragile emotional health and the toll it took on her life.
However, I also felt anger, grief, and disappointment for the toll not being adequately mothered took on my life.
Mothers who neglect, betray, and batter
Forward says, “Women like this treat their daughters like objects, resenting them, blaming them for life’s dissatisfactions, withholding even the smallest kindness, and, in the worst cases, failing to protect them from predators and abusers—or becoming abusers themselves.”
In my work with Libera, I have heard of school-aged girls being told by their mothers, “I wish you’d never been born.” I imagine that statement hurts far more than any slap.
And, “Where did I go wrong?” One mother asked her daughter—absolutely beautiful inside and out—that question.
Words have so much power. And the words of a parent—a mother to a daughter, especially—all the more.
Why the emphasis on mother-daughter relationships?
In her book, Will I Ever Be Good Enough, Karyl McBride, PhD, says: “A daughter who doesn’t receive validation from her earliest relationship with her mother learns that she has no significance in the world and her efforts have no effect. She tries her hardest to make a genuine connection with Mom, but fails, and thinks that the problem of rarely being able to please her mother lies within herself. This teaches the daughter she is unworthy of love.”
If any of the above sounds familiar to you, here are:
6 Helpful actions to take if you have a narcissistic mother or suffer a mother wound:
- Read any/all of the above mentioned books
- Accept that your mother is probably not going to change
- Grieve the childhood you didn’t have
- Set boundaries with your mother
- Get counseling
- Join a Libera group
By the grace of God, I made peace with my mother. It took multiple forgiveness efforts, but in the end, compassion for my mother’s failing body allowed me to let go of my anger, sadness, and disappointment with her. You can read about that experience here.