“My mother would ask me what I wanted to eat and then serve me whatever she felt like, as if I hadn’t said a word. That was true of everything: any time I expressed a wish or preference, she made it clear that what I wanted didn’t matter. They were repainting my room and she asked me what color I wanted and I said blue but also said I was fine with anything but pink. I should have known better but guess what? I came home to bubble-gum pink walls.”
Being in a relationship with someone high in narcissistic traits can be maddening, painful, and, counterintuitively enough, exciting. As Dr. Craig Malkin notes in his book, Rethinking Narcissism, it’s easy to confuse or conflate the roller-coast ride of this kind of relationship—with its dramatic ups and downs, its quick turn from love-bombing to disparagement and control—with passion.
The second most-asked question I field—the first is “Why do I keep choosing the wrong men?”—is “Why are friendships with women so difficult?”
Here’s what one woman messaged me not too long ago: “Why do I have a knack for attracting guys who look great at the beginning and then, over time, turn out to be users or narcissists? I had a toxic childhood with an abusive mom and an absentee dad. Is there a connection?”
It’s ironic but one of the most common obstacles to a daughter’s healing from a toxic childhood is her continuing effort to understand and make sense of her mother’s behavior. It’s counterintuitive but, in this case, trying to understand—which is normally a path to resolution and action—is actually part of the unloved daughter’s quest to find a way to get her mother to love her.
Normalizing toxic behavior is one of the greatest deficits an unloved daughter or son takes with her or him into adulthood.
My neighbor “Lisette” was telling me about her mother and how she’s struggled to take care of her as she ages. She finally came to the painful conclusion that her mother really needed to be in a managed care facility, and felt conflicted.
Children who grow up hungry for love and who have learned that love is a transaction in their families of origin—a prize rewarded for doing something that pleases someone else and never given freely — grow into adults who take the lessons learned at home into the world.
You know the saying, ‘My way or the highway?’ That’s my guy. No discussion. No questions. He wasn’t like this when we were dating or at least I don’t think so. He seemed accommodating, in fact. But since we’ve been married—five long years—he has...
The world a small child inhabits is a tiny one, and each of us grows up believing that what happens at our house happens in houses everywhere. We form our first impressions of how the world works—the larger world outside of the family—from interactions in our little world.