They grow up under their narcissistic mother’s thumb. They may move out, but they haven’t truly launched. They may marry but Mommy still calls the shots. They live, raise the next generation, become grandmothers, grow old and die, all under her thumb.
It’s a question I’ve long pondered: Do daughters of narcissistic mothers ever truly grow up?
The simple answer: Not unless they decide to and fight like crazy to make it happen.
The Cult of Motherhood
Some people say that the paradigm of a mother/child cult dates all the way back to Babylon. Be that as it may be, narcissistic mothers wield their motherhood as a weapon. As a debt their children can never repay. As an impenetrable bond their daughters, in this case, can never cut, slip nor escape. Like I once heard a Southern mama say, “I’m your Mama so y’all gotta do what I say.” By the way, she was speaking to her forty-five year old child!
Men in this situation are called “Mama’s Boys.” Why isn’t there a name for daughters in the same predicament? Oh. Right. Society sees it as “Isn’t she a good daughter!? What a wonderful mother/daughter relationship.”
Why the Failure to Launch?
Narcissists are by their very definition the most unconfident of people trying their hardest to hide it. What could be more threatening than your eighteen-year-old Baby looking you square in the eye and saying, “I’m an adult now. We are equals. Bye-bye!”
The solution is simple: make sure that never happens. Launching into adult life is hard for everyone. Like a baby bird peeking over the edge of the nest, longing to fly yet not sure their wings will hold them, young adults need both a kick to get ’em going and a safety net so it’s safe to try.
Narcissistic parents need only remove those two things, add some brainwashing, a shitload of false guilt and victim-playing and their children may never launch. Thus, they’ll never have to face their child as an equal and an adult. Especially their daughter(s) — their kind, gentle, caring, loving, codependent, brainwashed, used, abused, downtrodden, anxiety-stricken, PTSD, broken daughters.
She may have the body of a woman, but inside, she’s just a frightened little girl, still trying to earn her Mommy’s love and approval.
The Threat: A Husband
Having successfully broken their daughter, the only remaining threat to Mommy’s lifelong dominance is a son-in-law who might put some starch in Daughter’s spine. Introduce her to normalcy. Encourage her to grow up and have some gumption.
Well, that can be managed too. All Mommy needs to do is disapprove of every good man her daughter dates.
If that doesn’t work, she can roll out her fatal charm and steal his affections. Oh, it’s classic stuff. Narcissistic mothers are notorious for flirting with, stealing and sometimes having affairs with their daughters’ boyfriends.
If all else fails, and daughter grows just enough spine to marry the man she loves, N-Mommy can always sow the seeds of doubt. Take a leaf from my grandmother’s book by telling her daughter, on her wedding morning, “It’s a sin for you to marry him.” (BTW, it wasn’t!)
Walking the Line
Just becoming a “Mrs” is not cause/effect for a narcissist’s daughter to grow up. Oh dear me, no! Marriage to her is a tightrope. Walking the line between trying to please her husband while simultaneously trying to please her domineering, utterly unpleasable mother. If you think I’m crazy, I’ve got thirty years worth of stories to tell you.
Stories of a woman who claimed she was having a heart attack to shame her forty-four year old daughter, whom she had strained to the breaking point, for raising her voice for the first and last time. But frankly, I’m having a very nice day and I don’t want to dredge up gloomy memories from the past. Read my “Granny Trilogy” if you want the gory details.
Passing It Down
Now we come to the crux of this article. What happens when this child-woman sees her own children growing up? Establishing independence. Dating. Designing their own lives. Doing everything she’s never done because despite having the outer accouterments of adulthood — spouse, children, home, car, career — she never actually grew up. Not really. Not inside where it matters.
Jealousy. Jealousy of her own children, especially her daughters. Watching them become confident, independent, attractive, sexy women in their own right is unbearable for her. She envies what they have. What should have been hers too, if only, if only.
This is where the past treads heavily on the heels of the present. This is where the cliché “lather, rinse, repeat” comes into play.
Without the psychological moxie to realize what happened to her, she may well repeat the past. Something about the “sins of the mothers being visited on the third and fourth generations” comes to mind.
She too will break up their relationships. Disapprove of their choices. Put a stick-in-the-spoke of their hopes and dreams. Angrily seek to control every facet of their lives from their clothes to what they eat. Any “rebellion” being met with the same tactic her mother used: angry pouting. She may even choose to remain loyal to her Mommy, at the expense of her relationship with her own children. That was the choice my mother made.
And so the beat goes on. Each generation envying the next, controlling the next with tears, anger, pouting…whatever it takes to keep everyone outwardly adult but innerly juvenile.
Hope, they say, was trapped in Pandora’s Box when all the evils in the world escaped. Whatever your age or situation, there is always hope. It’s been a shock to realize most of the readers of Narcissism Meets Normalcy are in their fiftes, sixties and seventies. Most are just now discovering narcissism. Many still have their very old narcissistic parents in their lives and often in their homes. Still ruining their lives.
At any age, in any situation, I believe you can take steps to to grow up totally. But it’s a choice. The most ballsy, the hardest, the most excruciating choice you’ll ever make. I made it. Hardest, most painful thing I ever did, yet strangely, also the most joyful.
Think of it as leaving a cult. There will be a great cost – you may lose everything and everyone you hold dear, but you will gain the most precious thing of all: Yourself. Your self-respect. Your life. Your birthright: freedom. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
You haven’t had a life. You’ve never had liberty. And you’ve never pursued happiness.
You only get one terrestrial life. Live it in such a way that makes you and you alone happy in the here and now!