My story is your story...
Updated: Feb 8, 2019
I arrived into the world on December 25, 1952--yup Christmas Day. I should've known immediately that life would be challenging for me, to say the least! I'm the oldest of two--my younger brother is four years younger than me. For 62 years I felt like I was under water, trying to swim to the surface where there was air; where I could breathe. Yet never quite making it to the surface. There was always something, or someone, pushing me back down beneath the surface each time I got close to it. I was my own cheerleader, and it became apparent very early on that I would need strength to protect myself, but at the same time I was desperate for love, praise, kindness, warmth and understanding. I was the consummate pleaser. I did not know how to say "no" to anyone or anything. I couldn't do enough for everyone around me in the hopes I would be liked and earn some small amount of recognition. I hated looking at myself in the mirror. I had no self-esteem, no confidence, no self-worth, yet I kept on going. There was something inside of me that always pushed me to move forward. I had an innate zest for life. I loved people, parties, movies, shows, the beach, and food! We'll get to the food thing later! But I just loved being social, anywhere that took me away from the darkness of my home and my feelings of inadequacy.
I am a survivor of an emotionally abusive mother-a narcissist. What does that even mean? A narcissist, as defined by the mental health community, is a person with at least 5 of the following personality traits, but usually all 9:
1. Arrogance and domineering
2. Grandiosity-feelings of superiority, that everyone else is inferior to them
3. Preoccupation with success, power, brilliance, beauty, etc.
4. Lack of empathy-shallow emotions such as an inability to love deeply, lack of remorse, and lack of guilt.
5. Belief of being unique or special-everyone else is too inferior to comprehend their greatness
6. Sense of entitlement-they deserve special privileges or special treatment
7. Require excessive admiration-linking closely to the belief they deserve special privileges
8. Exploitative-using others for their own personal gain
9. Envious of others
I would definitely say my mother has all 9, but some to a much greater extent than others.
I was about 56 when I realized that my mother had been my problem my whole life. I always thought my father was the problem because he was so cold, and so angry most of the time. He was clearly irritated by my presence, and had told me many times how he was disappointed for 30 seconds after I was born. He wanted a son first, and maybe second, too! He had no idea what to do with a daughter. He was stern and demanding, and at times ordered me around like I was his servant ("make me a sandwich, will ya"). When I talked back, he became irate beyond belief. And there were times when he humiliated me over and over in front of my friends because he thought he was funny, and if I complained, he just repeated the behavior. He did not hear me, nor did he care what I was saying about anything. He thought he was the funniest person living, and teased with a bullying sense of power. With every report card came the lecture about why I wasn't getting As. I would be sitting, and he would stand in front of me; looming over me making himself seem bigger and bigger while making me feel smaller and smaller.
But most of the time, he ignored me. No warm hugs, no support, no daddy's little girl. And never did he ever say "I love you." Yet, he was warm and loving to other members of the family, strangers, and even little girls in restaurants that he loved to kid around with. As I got older, I came to understand how desperate he was to be "liked" by the entire world at the expense of his own children.
I know what you're saying now! If this was your father, how could your mother have been the problem? And I totally get how you can ask that question, so here goes. My mother did not defend me or support me against my father or anyone else in my life who behaved in an abusive way towards me. When I tried to talk to her about my father's treatment, she responded by saying she didn't know what I was talking about. Then she'd say she talked to everyone else in the family; grandmother, aunt, uncle, etc., and no one else noticed any unusual behavior towards me by my father. She always polled all family members for their opinions, or at least she said she did. Well, if you hear that enough times, you stop complaining and trying to get support from the one parent you thought could help you-the one you thought would always be on your side--the mother who I thought would take a bullet for her child, like mothers are supposed to do.
My mother, like my father, was cold. She lacked the ability to love deeply (see #4 above). There were no cuddles, no hugs. There was no warmth, no sympathy or empathy. And she never said, "I love you." She, too, behaved very differently with other children in the family, relatives, particularly those with money, and all outsiders, who loved her because they saw a very different Joyce than her children did. She never felt badly about anything she did or said, she had no guilt over her actions, and she felt no remorse. Not ever. She never apologized for anything hurtful that she said, and even when I clearly and repeatedly told her how badly she made me feel, her response was always the same-"you must have misunderstood me, that's not what I said."
She did the basics of child care with the help of my beloved grandmother (whom I shall refer to as Nanny) and my great-grandmother (who was Grandma). My mother took me nowhere, except shopping at expensive department stores that they couldn't afford so she could pick out my clothes. I was to wear what she chose, not what I liked. What was important to her was shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and Bloomingdale's. She wanted to be rich because she thought she was entitled to be rich, and if she couldn't be rich she was going to act like she was rich so that everyone would think she was rich.
My beloved Nanny, my mother's mother, was the one who took me everywhere. Growing up in the suburbs of New York City, the Big Apple was just a train ride away. My Nanny took me to Broadway shows, lunches in the city with my "Pop" and lots of shopping. I loved going to her apartment where she lived with Pop and Grandma. So many fun things to do there like cooking and baking with them, trying on their clothes, shoes, and jewelry, coloring with lots of colored pencils at their big old wooden desk, and even watching wrestling on TV with Grandma. She loved to watch professional wrestling!
Grandma came to the US from Russia when she was 14. She spoke mostly Yiddish, which I could never really speak, but I understood every word. Grandma cooked traditional, old world Jewish foods. Their apartment always smelled so good-chicken soup with matzo balls, roast chicken, stuffed cabbage, chopped liver, and baked sugar cookies, just to mention a few. There was always something to taste, and I loved just being in the kitchen with them. They always had an apron for me to wear and something for me to stir or mix! I was always happy there. It was bright and cheery, and felt warm, cozy and safe. There was a sense of calm there. The absolute opposite of how I felt in my own home, which was dark, depressing, angry, and filled with tension.
Not a day went by, right into adulthood, that my mother didn't criticize me or critique me. She hated everything I wore and told me so. I would get up in the morning when I was in high school and choose my own outfit. I would think I looked pretty good, and then I'd walk into the kitchen and she'd say, "why are you wearing THAT. It looks awful. That outfit doesn't go together." Never a good morning, never how are you, never how did you sleep, and never a gee, you look so nice today. And then she would berate me for not saying good morning when I came into the kitchen each day. She criticized what I said, how I cooked, if I did or didn't write a thank you note, or how I wrote the note. If something great happened in my life, I would call her to tell her, and she would immediately find something wrong with my joy and tear me down. And of course, like all children of narcissists, I continued to call her with my achievements hoping that one day she might just be happy for me.
She played my brother and me against each other, especially if we were getting along and having fun. Divide and conquer was the name of her game. She couldn't stand to see us happy. If she wasn't ripping me apart, she was ripping him apart. In a very devious and underhanded way, she would get one of us to side with her against the other. And in order to please her, in the hopes she would "like" us, we sided with her against each other. She was a master manipulator, and she loved the control she had over us. The truth is she was and is a very weak woman with no backbone. She was completely controlled by everyone in her world, especially a very rich uncle. Needing to be in control of something, she controlled every waking minute of my life and my brother's.
My brother and I spent our entire lives right into our 50s being friends at times, and stabbing each other in the back at other times. This was the only behavior we knew. This was our norm. And today, we are estranged, and have been for 6 years. There have been many periods of estrangement in our lives, but this is the longest. It makes me sad, but I now understand it completely. I'll have more to say about my relationship, or lack there of, with my brother in future posts.
As I mentioned earlier, I was 56 when I realized my mother was the problem. In 2009, my father was dying. He and I had somehow reached a point very late in life where we could tolerate each other. We were even civil to each other. He was very ill, and I actually felt sorry for him. I flew to NY from my home in Los Angeles to see him knowing it might be the last time. He was very weak, his organs were shutting down, and yet he was still at home. I helped him eat, and walked him up and down the halls of their apartment building. His doctor wanted him to keep moving--don't ask.
During these few days I heard my mother shrieking, in the angriest of tones, 1. He sleeps until 10:00 every morning. He just won't get up. This is ridiculous. 2. I can't take care of him. I'm sick, too. (NOT) I haven't been anywhere in 3 weeks. I haven't been out of this house. My response to her was "how about those vows, mom? In sickness and in health?" She ignored me and kept on griping. This was the pivotal moment for me; the moment I realized it was all her. It was always her. She never cared about anyone but herself-not her husband or her children. My flood gates had been blown wide open--this was the ultimate trigger. Thousands of horrible memories began to rear their ugly heads. I was overcome with panic attacks, especially while driving on the same roads I had driven for over 25 years, and my anxiety, which I'd had all my life, was out in full force. I had palpitations, sweaty palms, and I couldn't catch my breath. I would wake up in the middle of the night trying to catch my breath. I couldn't calm myself at all.
Fast forward to 2015. My husband had been working in San Diego for 13 years; a 2-hour drive from Los Angeles. He came home on the weekends, and went back to San Diego every Monday morning. We were empty nesters. I decided, for all the wrong reasons, to move to San Diego. However, I was paralyzed with fear that I would never leave the house because I might have panic attacks while I was driving there, too.
I truly believe there are no accidents or coincidences-that everything happens for a reason. I was having lunch with two women associates of mine, one of whom is a marriage and family therapist. She was talking about a method of therapy that she uses called EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is particularly effective with trauma. I was hanging on every word, asked a number of questions, and at a later date, asked her if she'd treat me. She was the first person I had ever told about my mother and what I had been through, because I was so sure no one would believe me. She couldn't treat me because we knew each other too well, but referred me to a woman who was an EMDR expert and highly respected in the field. It took me 3 weeks to call her, but I did. After being diagnosed with PTSD, this was the beginning of my road to recovery-a very long, very difficult, heart-wrenching and exhausting road to recovery, but I emerged a survivor. Having classified myself as a victim for years and years, I was finally able to accept the fact that I had survived the abuse, that I went on to raise two beautiful, loving, and successful children, and that I am finally at peace with my past.
One thing that is important to note: the narcissist does not change. Not ever. They do not soften as they age, and their abusive, manipulative, cruel behavior NEVER changes. Trust me on this-my mother is 92 and is still at it-twisting the truth, attempting to manipulate, and talking about herself ad nauseam. But I'm in control of our relationship now. While I talk with her periodically, I feel nothing for her. She's just someone from my past that I keep in touch with sporadically. And I do not let her get away with anything. I have the power now.
And so, there you have it. This is why I have chosen to start blogging about my journey. My hope is to be able to help others who have been affected by a narcissistic parent and emotional abuse find a path to healing and peace. It is critical to raise awareness about this rarely talked about and often understood form of abuse, and the abuser known as the narcissist. I'd love to hear from you, and hope you will continue to read my stories. It is possible to be free and healthy. You are not alone.