Q: I was raised by a narcissistic mother. She exhibited all the traits you discuss here. I am 36 and I have not spoken to her in 7 years. However I find that her treatment still affects me. She was very disapproving of every choice I ever made. I got married young, that was bad and therefore I was bad. I dropped out of college and went to work instead and that was bad. I was a working mom and that was bad. Then I was a stay at home mom and that was also bad. I went back to college and the college I chose was bad. The list goes on. I bought a house, but it didn’t have a yard -so it was bad. And even though, as I got older and more mature, I realized that it was her dissatisfaction with her own life that drove her need to find fault in me and my siblings and everything we did, it didn’t stop me from feeling like a loser. I understand on an intellectual level, that my mother never really accomplished much with her own life. She has no relationships to speak of, except for my father, who is basically a shell of a man, as a result of her abuse. And yet, for some reason, I feel like nothing I do is enough. Success doesn’t exist. My mother has had this effect, in varying capacity- on all four of her children. She has been out of my life for years. And I have gone through therapy numerous times. I understand how she affected me. But it doesn’t change how I feel. Will I ever be free of this?
A: Your mother’s treatment is going to affect you for a long time- it has shaped your whole childhood and your core self image. You describe your self and your choices as “bad”, and although you said it sarcastically, it seems there may be a part of you that believes that this is true. You feel “like a loser”; at some level you still feel like a “bad” person. You understand intellectually and that is a terrific start. Next you have to understand and accept emotionally. You need to work specifically on rebuilding your self image and re-framing yourself as a “good” person who makes good choices. Perhaps your prior therapies focused on getting you through the separation from your mother and understanding what happened. Now it is time to find a therapist who will help you see yourself and truly accept yourself as a good person. I would suggest a different type of therapy from before; it is called “cognitive behavioral therapy” and is practiced commonly although you will need to call around and find a therapist who practices this. Most therapists recognize it as an effective tool (especially for specific goals like yours) although they don’t all practice it.
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