We’ve all heard of Mama’s Boys: men “wedded” to their domineering and often narcissistic mother who runs their life and ruins their life. But what’s the female version of that? What is she called? A “Mama’s Girl”?
No, she’s called a devoted daughter. A loving daughter. A caring, generous, wonderful daughter. But behind the frozen smarmy smile is a wounded daughter who’s life has been slowly and genteelly ruined by her own mother. And what of her children? How does a woman’s devotion to her narcissistic mother affect the children she is supposed to be mothering?
Let’s explore this dynamic together.
There are three main players in our little drama.
The Narcissistic Matriarch henceforth called “Mother Superior.”
The Narcissist’s Daughter henceforth called “Mater Secondus” (lit. “second mother” in Latin.)
The Narcissist’s Grandchild(ren), henceforth called “The Kid.”
Of course, there are many other players too. There’s Mother Superior’s much-maligned, fade-into-the-background Husband. There’s Mother Superior’s other children and their spouses and kids.
And then there’s Mater Secondus’ long-suffering husband who discovered early on in their marriage that Mother Superior is actually the head of their household and, incidentally, also the mother-in-law-from-Hell.
All of them are deeply affected and wounded by Mother Superior’s narcissism and we’ll explore those dynamics in future articles. But this article focuses a laser beam on how narcissism affects multiple generations of females.
The best way to understand this dynamic is to watch how Mother Superior treats Mater Secondus. From the outside, the mother/daughter relationship looks ideal. You have to be on the inside of this dynamic to see what’s really going on. Blink and you’ll miss it.
Of course, it started decades ago when Mater Secondus was an adorable tiny tot in diapers. She learned early that the purpose of her existence was to please Mother Superior. Show individuality, creativity or even an innocent difference of opinion from Mother Superior at your peril. Maternal love was instantly and totally withdrawn á la love-bombing. Having already been alienated from her father by Mother Superior, who denigrated her husband at every opportunity, her daughter had only two choices: conditional maternal love or no love at all.
What choice did she really have? She was only a tiny, vulnerable little girl. Of course she chose, however unconsciously, to worship at the Maternal altar.
But it wasn’t just the love. Mother Superior was Ellen Terry, Lynn Fontanne, Helen Hayes and Garbo all rolled into one. Her performance in an ad libbed lifelong performance of La Grande Femme Pathétique Victime was Oscar worthy.
Oh, her hard-working husband was so mean to her. He was so stingy. She belly-ached all year long and ramped it up for Christmas when she donned her victimhood as surely as she wore her red-and-green Christmas apron. Look at the abuse she suffered at the hands of her miserly husband when she wildly overspent to give her babies a good Christmas. Mater Secundus would’ve gladly traded presents for “Peace in our time.”
As her children grew up, Mother Superior mourned their growing maturity. “I wasn’t done,” she sobbed, “being a mother.” So she didn’t stop. When her son married, he moved his new bride into the maternal home. And when her daughter married, Mother Superior kept the claws in.
As her wealth grew, she (weeping and crying, of course) divested herself of wealth to avoid paying taxes by hiding money in her relatives’ accounts. Perfectly legal, but a little tricky. Still, according to the law a gift is a gift is a gift. Not with a narcissist! Gifts from narcissists come with more strings than Shelob’s cobwebs!
As she aged, every ache, every pain, every physical challenge was magnified, sobbed over, talked up and otherwise played-to-the-hilt. Rather than gratitude over her octogenarian excellent health aided by a pacemaker, she played up the “tragedy” of her pain and pacemaker. Ah, woe is her! (BTW, my best friend’s newborn nephew [now deceased] had a pacemaker. That was a tragedy. A pacemaker in an old person is blessing.)
“It is my ministry,” Mater Secondus yelled, “to care for my mother. She’s so miserable. Dad is so mean to her. If I didn’t minister to her every day, she would be a witch!” So she spent hours every day on the phone “ministering” to her gossiping, weeping Mother Superior.
Now, you would assume that Mater Secondus was the Golden Child. That’s what she thought (or would’ve if she’d known the term.) Au contraire!
She was actually the Scapegoat. In return for all her ministering, Mother Superior meddled in every facet of her daughter’s life, particularly her daughter’s mothering of The Kid. Mother Superior criticized everything from The Kid’s name, clothing, the way she was raised and, I quote, “Poor Kid. She doesn’t have a fence. She should have a fence. Why don’t you build her a fence?” Mater Secondus sighed deeply. She hated to admit that she couldn’t afford meat, let alone a stupid fence!
Mater Secondus passed down her mother-worship to The Kid. Every gift from Mother Superior was reverenced. Woe to you if you lose it!! Jewelry from her must be worn, no matter how much you hate it. Clothes from her must be worn, even if it was uncomfortable and doesn’t fit. The only thing missing was an actual altar to Mother Superior complete with incense and burnt offerings!
In person, it was even worse. Mother Superior asked prying, intrusive, inappropriate questions, pumping The Kid for intimate info about her parents. When Mater Secondus found out, she vented her spleen on The Kid…not her mom!
When Mother Superior routinely touched The Kid’s chest, making the Kid feel physically violated, she was told, “Grandma doesn’t mean anything by it and she won’t stop.” The Mater couldn’t or wouldn’t even protect her child from that!
On the few times Mother Superior condescended to visit (usually she insisted that everyone visit her!), the three generations usually went shopping. The Kid naturally turned to Matern Secondus to ask a question about a particular item. Mother Superior physically interposed her body between mother and child, grabbed the item out of The Kid’s hand and answered the question herself.
That was the day The Kid coined the name “Mother Superior.” It stuck.
Years and years of being a willfully blind, false-guilt ridden, confused pawn took its toll on Mater Secondus. How could it not? It certainly didn’t help that she also married a victim-playing narcissist because “it felt like home.”
She became angry each time she saw Mother Superior. She couldn’t figure out why. She felt terribly guilty. She hid her anger behind a kind, gentle, smarmy smile. Sometimes, she went down to the cellar and screamed her head off, but “I don’t know why,” she said.
She began suffering anxiety and panic attacks. She stopped driving. Began pulling out her hair, her eyebrows to cope. Her mind raced constantly, trying to figure it all out. She kept her struggles to herself, especially keeping them from her mother. A few years later, her only sibling (Golden Child) kicked her to the curb. Mother Superior blamed her scapegoated daughter, sobbing, demanding she “make it right.” She amped up these attacks each Christmas, ruining every Yuletide season (bah humbug!).
Mater Secondus’ health began to fail. Her gastrointestinal system, always tense and painful, developed serious problems. She teetered on the edge of jaundice. Her adrenal glands were completely sapped.
She began getting very upset just before arriving at Mother Superior’s house for scheduled visits. Picking fights with her husband. Acting out…but she still wallowed in denial, refusing to see what was plain as a pikestaff!
The one and only time she snapped and raised her voice to her mother, Mother Superior promptly faked a heart attack and put herself into the hospital.
Finally, she sobbing admitted everything to Mother Superior. The anxiety attacks, the panic attacks, the adrenal problem, etc.
There was no glimmer of empathy.
She couldn’t understand it!
By the age of eighteen, The Kid was being groomed to replace her mother as Mother Superior’s co-dependent, confessor, adviser, rescuer, marital counselor and psychologist. But she didn’t like it. She’d been “onto” Mother Superior for years and began to distance herself. But her father shamed her for it. Shamed her “back into the fold.” She learned from Mater Secondus to be the master of greyrocking, sidestepping, playing dumb and otherwise negotiating the landmines, quicksand, insults and Rodents-Of-Unusual-Size (ROUS’s) of conversation with Mother Superior.
The one time she commented, “Mom, you’re a lot like your mother,” Mater Secondus erupted in a yell of, “NO I’M NOT. DON’T YOU EVER SAY THAT AGAIN!”
Getting married opened The Kid’s eyes even further. She’d be damned if her new husband tolerated Mother Superior’s veiled insults, her fact-checking, her superior air and condescending manner. The Kid suddenly grew a backbone….and went No Contact. Mother Superior sent the Sheriff.
So The Kid started to write. She researched it all. She laid it all out in detail. Explored all the dynamics — narcissism, codependence, love-bombing, cult dynamics, victim-playing, everything. Her writing was her gift to Mater Secondus. She wanted her to understand. She wanted her to be free because she loved her.
Mother’s Superior’s Golden Child discovered the writing and tattled to his mommy (who doesn’t own a computer!). Mother Superior let Mater Secondus “have it” in no uncertain terms. With tears. Finally, she really had something to play-the-victim about (or would have, if it all hadn’t been true!) Very Academy of Dramatic Arts!
Mater Secondus was faced with a choice. A grave choice.
She could either embrace The Kid’s truth, light, freedom and mental health, thus alienating herself from her Mother Superior – or – she could reject The Kid’s truth, binding herself ever-tighter with the maternal apron strings, worshiping at the altar, suckling at the maternal narcissist’s bosom, desperate for maternal approval, believing blindly in the brainwashing, swallowing the victim-playing, hoping to be named in The Will.
She made the wrong choice. In the end, after decades of suffering, she sold her soul for money. She forfeited any care or attention in her own old age by alienating her only child. Where once she had trusted her Kid’s insights, now she refused to even entertain the idea that, “Mom might be a narcissist!” She sold her only child for money and conditional “love” from her aged Mother Superior with these words:
“…let’s “follow the money trail.” As is well-known, the alleged “narcissistic Granny” that you make fun of…has been very, very generous about giving money to you over the years.
You were her first grandchild. As imperfect as she may have been, she always had a soft place in her heart for you and did her best to spoil you. It looks like she succeeded, as your Granny articles are the thanks she gets for decades of love, and sharing all that “green stuff.” Can it really be that in your pursuit of your writing career, you’re willing to throw your grandma under the bus?
Are you happy knowing that she now knows about your articles and that this fragile elderly lady (who’s had four strokes and is kept alive by a pacemaker) is grieving over your words? Does it bring you joy knowing that she will carry this grief with her into the grave someday?
Regarding your grandmother’s wellness check on you, what loving grandma wouldn’t be very concerned after not hearing from her beloved granddaughter for six months? That wellness check that you harshly criticize was an act of love, not a high-handed insult.
But now, back to business…THE MONEY. Since you feel free to make your “entertaining” articles about your grandma public, it seems only fair and just that she be compensated for the pain they are causing, by you GIVING BACK ALL THE MONEY SHE SO GENEROUSLY GAVE YOU.
The most amazing thing is how she played the “victim” card, exactly as The Kid had described in her writings. Really! Mater Secondus had a keener intellect than to attempt to use the exact techniques called out in The Kid’s writings. It didn’t really make sense.
Nor did it work.
Mater Secondus’ next step was to fly to her attorney only to find out that she had no legal ground to control, shut-up or sue The Kid nor take away the monetary gifts. Her days of playing The Puppet Master were over. The 2nd Amendment to the Bill of Rights applied to The Kid too. It trumped maternal domination, victim-playing, tears, coo’s, cuddles and tantrums.
The Kid was finally free!
Sometimes, friends ask me if it’s possible to stay in touch with their narcissistic mother. Can’t I just set boundaries and grey-rock, they ask me. It doesn’t hurt…much. I’ve waffled at times, understanding their plight. I mean, you never stop loving your mother!
Now, at long last, here’s my answer: NO!
Narcissism eats like a canker at the soul. The effect is silent and cumulative. If you insist on clasping that narcissistic mother to your bosom, you’ll eventually lose everything you hold dear. Your health, your happiness, your family. You may even become like the narcissistic mother you secretly despise. Narcissism demands nothing less.
Don’t make the mistake Mater Secondus made. Her entire life was ruined. By clinging to a mother who had zero empathy for her, she lost everyone who loved her truly with real empathy.
Viva No Contact!