Q & A: Was My Life with my Narcissistic Mother all Fake? I Need Therapy but Where Do I Start?

Q: Hi, After not really understanding my mothers reactions to me as her child, and adult (at times) I finally researched personality disorders, and found that my mother’s typical traits match Narcissistic Personality Disorder. For much of my life, she has never been able to show me love, or physical love. No hugs, or shows of affection. The closest it got was the word love written in a hallmark greeting card.

My father has bi polar disorder and they separated when I was only 13 yrs. I had three siblings. I discovered my mother talking about an affair she was having with some man one day so I told my father. They split up and my mother walked out on us. My father having bi polar was unable to mentally cope with her abandoning him or us and just shut down so I was left with the responsibility of picking up the pieces. I lasted two weeks under the strain, and then went to my mothers friends and broke down. She came back home but my father had to leave. From there she basically acted as if it were his fault the marriage was over. Because I was old enough to see what was happening, I knew this wasn’t true. I maintained my love for my father, but any expression of loving him to my mother would drive her into a rage. She did everything she could to stop him seeing us.

My mother always left us alone at night in the house and took off to her friends til the early hours. She would also take off on the weekends and drive around 100Km’s to spend time with the man she had been having an affair with. He was 19 yrs old and studying at university. She was aged 29. I would be left alone to cope with my brothers and sisters. One week I became violently ill with gastroenteritis and it was so bad that I could not be too far away from the toilet. The door was approx 5-6 metres away from my mothers room, and I vomited all night, but she never came out to ask if I was okay or to check on me? The following night my brother came down with the same bug. Unfortunately, she never got up to him either. When I woke in the morning he was vomiting and looked very ill as I had done, and I advised him to drink plenty of water and that the bug would soon go away as mine had. I then got ready for school and left. Later that morning my brother died of peritonitis. I have suppressed much of the trauma over the years. In fact my mother was so cold and distant at times I perceived it as normal, and looked inwards to myself for self esteem or nurturing so didn’t really perceive what she did as abuse until now in my 50’s.

The catalyst has been a row on social networking platform 3 years ago. She uploaded a picture of me and I looked awful in it. Being a professional photographer I didn’t really like the image so I asked if she would please take it down. It was almost as if she had chosen the worst image she could. I felt she would probably remove it as she had been whining about a friend uploading an image of her a few weeks before and I just told her to ask the friend to take it down politely. When I asked she got very stand offish and said don’t be silly. Then my 30 year old sister jumped in to her defense and said, “Oh leave it up mother, she needs to get used to the way she looks”.

I had been ill for over a year. Had several diagnostic surgeries lined up as I had swollen ankles and gut related issues and couldn’t understand why I was gaining weight or in such state of fatigue all the time. The image she had uploaded made my legs look like tree trunks… I became angry with both of them, a row erupted. My mother told me to pull me head in saying I wasn’t up myself. Another sister stepped in to corroborate this, and then my mother deleted me and completely cut me off.

Not being the first time I just didn’t think anything of it and thought she would just eventually come around. That did not occur and I started to wonder what was wrong. Her fling has turned into a marriage but has always been troubled and turbulent with her telling me he sulks for weeks on end and will not speak to her. Every time I went to see her she would describe him as useless with anything around the house. My partner would then jump to the job and get anything done that she needed doing. I felt my relationship had really improved with her as she would ask my partner to build this or that and have us stay the whole weekend. Looking back whenever I have felt I needed support, she has been cold, indifferent and isolated me.

With my first marriage, I told her I would be having my own father give me away. She said she could not come to my wedding if that occurred. Knowing I could never hurt my father (as he is emotionally vulnerable with his bi polar issue) I told her it was my wedding day and I should be able to have my own father there to give me away. She raged, told me to get out and never spoke to me for months. The day of our wedding came and went and she boycotted that. She never spoke to me for a whole year until my husband rang her to tell her I was in hospital for a surgery. She visited me there and then maintained the relationship, but then emigrated a few months after that to NZ with my siblings. My sister Sarah then became the eldest and the martyr I think.Having been the middle child she revelled in taking my place. 7 years later my marriage ended due to physical abuse etc. As soon as my marriage ended my mother offered to buy myself and my then two children tickets for a christmas holiday in NZ.  My sister went halves on those tickets. We came here and things were fine for the first few weeks until the few weeks before I was due to go home and fell into a depression. Told my mother I didnt want to go home and she agreed to assist me with residency. We applied on humanitarian grounds. After coming in late though one night from a date (dated a 19yo – I was 30 yrs old) my mother came into my room the morning after and demanded that from now on I return before 11pm. A row ensued – I was kind of gobsmacked that she was telling me a 30 year old when to come in from a night out. Then she ranted about the bf being too young, so I pointed out that my step father was ten years younger also and she erupted. Massive rage, told me I would have to go home to the UK. That she would not support my residency application and then she went to work. I was so distraught I went down stairs and took an overdose of diazepam. I was very vulnerable at that time, and had missed being around my family for 7 years.

The break up back home was so acrimonious that my X would never leave me alone and had assaulted a bf I had. Realising what I had done (heard my child in the background) I rang a friend and she ran me into hospital. My mothers response when I came home was to “Get out”. Even at this point I was so damned naive regarding her total lack of empathy. I felt it was my fault or that I had done something seriously wrong. I moved out to the friends place with my children. My application continued because it had already been submitted but I truly believe if paper work had not gone in, she would not have assisted. None of my sisters supported me at this time. In fact my sister Sarah was almost completely hateful towards me and I can only think now, it was because my sister is an Inverted Narcissist and saw me as stepping on her territory.

I eventually married again and “feel” as if I have had a normal relationship. I dont have any anxiety issues as my mother has had for years. I just had the occasional bout of depression from feeling worthless at times without even being able to describe to any counsellor how I felt. My husband has been extremely supportive. I would I feel be relatively happy if my family were all there for me as I gave up my life in the UK and life long friends to be here. My mothers father was a classic narcissist. He was extremely abusive, manipulative, evil to the point of hypnotising one partner and having her strip naked in the middle of the lounge, and then brought her out of the trance in front of my mother and some other guests. My mother and her other 8 siblings forced my grandfather out of their mothers home when their mother turned 60 due to constant abuse. I was told my grandfather once threw her down the stairs 8 months pregnant and the baby died. Mother said he raped my grandmother regularly. They lived like gypo’s in a run down house and squatted there for years, but my grandfather for the most part scared all siblings away long before they reached the age of 17 yrs and after leaving school.

From being divorced by my grandmother he then went on a spree of marrying older women for their money, and then leaving them high and dry and looking for the ext victim. My past experiences whenever being around him have felt as Claris would feel in Silence of The Lambs… creepy is an understatement. I always thought of him as evil because of things my mother said. Because my mother was seldom physically abusive (slaps and so on on the head only in rages) I never thought her bad, I feel as if I have been in a trance for 50 years and suddenly woke up. After researching personality disorders, I am devastated to even learn that all the traits my grandfather displayed, and those my mother has displayed even had a label to them. I have only done research this week and everything seems to fit. The sister that supported her on facebook has somehow never been able to keep in a relationship and in fact we never hear about boyfriends as such. She sees herself as a model but when doing a shoot with her she came over as wooden and unable to even pose properly. She was also obsessed with dancing and got involved with dramatics at school. I suspected she was a lesbian at one point possibly, but then a family friend filled me in and said she definitely was not. My mother started to brag about her as if she was the brightest out of the bunch. Our Blah has common sense and a good head on her shoulders – she hasn’t wound up married with blah kids. I felt the praise was out of synch as my sister is in her mid thirties and has never managed to maintain any type of relationship. One day when I uploaded images of Christmas I had spent with family, she had come over to verbally make bitchy comments about our niece as I had done some portraits of her on Christmas day. She was so scathing I deleted the comment and had sent her a private email asking her, “What the heck has got into you Blach has done nothing to you!?”On one occasion my mother said she had been taken to court for stalking a guy in text. Recently I was told by a family she had a relationship with a young man, played huge head games with him, and he sent her a text saying he loved her and then hung himself in a park with a two rope.

I am shocked. As soon as I heard that story coupled with my younger brother displaying all the signs of Antisocial Personality Disorder since 15 yrs my blood run cold. I started to analyses stuff and researched mental illness and personality disorders. As I researched I felt honestly sick reading my life in research with my mother. At the same time I have I feel took some of her traits… I mean I am not that great interpersonally, and space out and have recently had feelings of being so isolated and worthless. I am not sure if these symptoms are tied to the shock of being abandoned by my family or if I am Narcissist and craving attention. I “feel” my relationship is normal and I can show affection to my partner when I want to. I even feel empathy towards others and I would never dream of hurting anyone emotionally. But I don’t know if I am inventing this stuff in my head to divorce myself from the disgusting information I am reading about my entire family or whether her coldness and attitude towards me if it was normal to shut down, and go into myself as a child. Very confused. I would describe sometimes having ADD and also PSTD symptoms and being sensitive to criticism but only bitchy and inappropriate criticism.

As a photographer I welcome any tips and positive critique on my work. I do have feelings of envy and jealousy when others are successful or happy, but never lash out. I do have times where I have spaced out and been so absorbed in my work and not connected with my kids. But I can, and do when the time is there. I can apologise when I am wrong… I just find myself asking internal questions as to whether I am the same as her and the thought of it just horrifies me. I am asking myself if I have had an authentic life even… I also feel as if everything I ever knew was a complete lie. A fascade. Not real. From here I dont know where to go with it. I guess it is not so bad when it is a partner – you can leave or abandon them, but this is my mother and my whole family. Although they have cast me aside, reading your tips about turning my back on them also seems like a Narcissistic trait or reaction – as my mother has done. I also feel pity for my mother. I mean Christ… normal people deserve love, and as much as she has done me wrong, in the past I can’t help thinking all she is asking for is love and attention as anyone else expects in life. Some of the things I have read about Narcissists are so cruel… I even question my brothers death… ask myself is she was feeling so worthless and coma’d out on Valium she just couldn’t hear us. It is a living nightmare to be finding thought I had at the time of his death (which I had suppressed for years as it was traumatic) to be resurfacing now and asking myself was he neglected? Did he die needlessly? Very confused and have written to my step father as at this week as a few years ago my mother told me they were not sleeping together and that she thought he was having an affair… she was practically chewing her nails to stumps.. and crawling the walls and crying. Then walked into the sea and tried to drown herself… all i an attempt to get him to listen to her in counselling. It settled eventually and she did tell me that the counsellor said SHE was too controlling and needed to back off. But a recent friend told me that my mother told them HE was too controlling of her??? All she has ever done is criticise the guy.. I actually felt sorry for him. He will want to get the top line in flat screen TV’s and she will say, “We’re not getting that it costs too much”. Despite him having a good job and income. Then she will go out and buy a cheap crappy TV and give it to him and wonders why he falls into huge sulks. LOL. Buys second hand clothes only for herself… seldom buys new. Every gift I have ever had from her as been some cheap shoddy version of what I actually wanted. I would rather have a gift coupon half the time. Her choice in furniture is from a certain era and if nothing fits wit it it cannot be in the room. My step father being ten years younger understandably (and a little OCD) hates clutter. Is very shy and was an only child and seldom speaks to me. Being only 6 years older than me actually I never saw him as my father.

I find myself just thinking about my entire life and wondering if

a.) it was an illusion and not real where my family was concerned, or

b.) I am just going completely mad.

Having had two homes, had 5 great children and having what I feel is an authentic relationship which is balanced with very little drama it is my oasis from a life of drama. I studied and graduated from a degree a few years ago… worked to building a portfolio and then studied journalism. All these achievements were quickly dismissed by my brother a few years ago when he said “Your a bitter sod. Have never amounted to anything”. This is coming from someone who as never been able to maintain a job, has had countless run is with the police and conned people his entire life and who does things without any remorse whatsoever. My mother lavished him with attention and never pulled the rains when he did wrong, so he has completely gone off the rails. But to hear him speak I half wondered where he could have got the vision of me from, and now I have gone through all this this past week, I have to honestly say it could only have come from my mothers mouth. I do know when I arrived he was around 15 yrs, and to be honest he was having issues at school then. A few years later he was doing drugs and getting into trouble…running up car fines. My mother would pay them or dig him out of the cells. She chatted to me one day about reading an article about children needing to learn the consequences. Some child psychology book. For some strange reason though whenver he does wrong or causes hassle in the family, she backs him up these days or has bought him cars, a house etc. As she has my other sister (they are step sister and brother). Everything seems warped.

Having described me as her model child to my husband because I always conformed to perfect and always behaved, she has treated me like dirt my entire life. I have at times felt like the whipping post. Though the others could say she has never physically abused them possibly, I feel I literally was at times used to make an example IN FRONT OF THE OTHERS to put the fear of God into them re ever crossing her. In other words, if I speak out, or question her, she punished me and they know never to go there. At the same time they all jump right in and stick the boot in. Honestly it is laughable. When I last approached my mother about why I am hurt, she just emailed back and denied everything I repeated about my life with her and called me a liar. That for as long as I was going to act stuck up, she would not have anything to do with me. I’m concerned she is deeply unhappy and that at this age I am abandoned in such a way… confused as to whether it has been deliberate or my own fault for not being there for her. Half wish there were degrees of narcissism and that hers was a mild case… anything but this feeling my whole life with her was a lie.

I would dearly love someone to advise me actually, I have no idea where to start.. I am terrified of things coming to the surface i will not be able to handle in counselling. I am also devastated at the thought my mother is unable to love me authentically. The other siblings have no idea about NPD and would probably deny it.

A: You have had an emotionally difficult life, to say the least. You need help sorting through all the crises and incidents you have mentioned in order to determine what is real, what is authentic, what is just fear, what are normal ups and downs of life, and why your mother still has such control over your thoughts and emotions. Please find an experienced therapist who will be able to help you sort through all the information you have provided. You say you are terrified of things coming to the surface in counseling that you can’t handle. You have already had the strength to make it through bouts of physical and emotional abandonment and an unfortunate young death; with the therapist’s assistance, you will be able to find your inner strength and handle any other issues that might come up. You say you are confused and your thoughts in this letter would attest to that; a skilled therapist will help you make sense of your thoughts and feelings and help you find a “place to start”.

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