I am most of the way through the book, Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers right now.
I can tell you one thing I have thought about as I’m raising my daughters and “recovering” from the effects of a narcissistic mother. It is helpful to me to realize that my narcissistic mother who, at first blush, appeared to cause me pain on purpose was simply living out scripts from her own experiences from her own family dynamics.
It is helpful to think that my mother is incapable of re-writing her internal scripts. She did not have the wealth of information at her fingertips like I do now. If, perhaps in her 20s and 30s, she had access to the information like I do, she would have turned out differently and stopped the narcissistic cycle. My mother now is 65. She is in no way going to read a book (or see a therapist) telling her what is wrong with the way she did things and how she caused me and my siblings so much damage. But that’s okay. My recovery doesn’t depend on it. It depends solely on my taking responsibility for my own growth and healing. I’m doing this on one level for my daughters, but ultimately, I’m doing this for myself.
We don’t have to feel empathy for our mothers (I mean, if you can’t feel it, you can’t force it), but we DO need to mourn what we lost as children. We do need to mourn those losses, and we do need to change the focus on external validation (validation we get from our friends and lovers, our teachers, our jobs, or our mothers) to internal validation (the validation we get from listening to our intuitions tell us that we ARE capable of making good decisions and ARE capable of letting go of the past and moving forward). This shift helps us to gain confidence in our inner wisdom. Most often, we do know what’s good for us, only we stop listening to our inner wisdom and instead choose to go against it.
I started the process of listening to my inner wisdom a long time ago and stopped at a certain point (when I was safely out of my mothers influence). But I didn’t realize I wasn’t finished until I had my three beautiful daughters, one of whom that has had a social anxiety so bad she had selective mutism.
In helping her, I got a whole bunch of books, but discarded many of them after a while. Not because they were bad, but because it was too much to take in (though I did take away some things from them). What I had to do was trust in myself that I could figure out what she needed. Turns out she needed exactly what I needed from my mother 39 years ago – safe haven to express my anxieties and someone to help me manage my intense emotions.
But…this didn’t come naturally to me. What I didn’t know at the time was I lacked empathy for my own daughter because my mother didn’t have empathy for me. We had a major setback for a while, until I realized something was very, very wrong. And even when I realized it, and worked hard to change how I responded to her, I still felt resentful that I had to be the one to change.
Why was that? I believe it’s because my mother’s impact on my ability to be truly empathetic was bigger than I ever imagined. This book helped me to realize not only did I need empathy for my daughter, but empathy for myself. I was a very sensitive child and I went into battle after battle with my mother and it left my soul in tatters.
I can’t change what my mother did to me, but I can change how much longer it affects my life and my empathy and my relationship with others, including my daughters. I’m the one who decides when I want it to stop, and it is now.