There should be a new abbreviation. We have “ACONs” or Adult Children of Narcissists. But we need a new one: ACONKs. Adult Children of Narcissists’ Kids. Because it’s a thing. A very “thingish thing” as Winnie the Pooh would say.
Let’s posit a scenario. Let’s say that your mother is a narcissist’s daughter. And not just a generic, run-of-the-mill daughter. No indeed! She is an exemplary, knock-it-out-of-the-park narcissist’s daughter. Your mother dances attendance on her mother. Grandma’s wish is Mom’s command. Grandma says “Jump” and your mother crouches down while asking, “How high!?”
She’s the kind of daughter who’s always lived for her mother’s stingy, reluctant approval. She gave up her own dreams to fulfill her mother’s dreams. She gave up loves Grandma frowned upon to marry the one who made Grandma happy and Mom miserable. Things like that.
Perhaps she’s used her own money to keep Grandma’s finances afloat. Perhaps she maintained her own home and Grandma’s home. And as Grandma got a little past it, she made her welcome, silently bearing the insults, the snide comments, the prying, the nosiness, the judging, the cantankerousness of her aging, yet still vitriolic mother. Your mother seemed blind, deaf, even purposely imperceptive to it all.
But you? You saw the abuse clearly! You had Granny’s number years ago! Tried to go NC; got shamed back into C.
Having devoted her entire life and surrendered her own happiness to her mother, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts your mom automatically expects the same of you. But not “in so many words.” She doesn’t actually want you to be miserable, but she does expect you to follow her example and be a “good daughter” in her mold. She raised you to be a good daughter. She modeled it for you. Your “good daughtering” will be her reward for years of unselfishness towards her own mother. Why would she expect anything less?
Aye, but here’s the thing: she didn’t raise you like her mother raised her. She wasn’t stingy with love and grudging with approval. No! She tried to give you everything she craved and didn’t have. As a result, you grew up to have at least a modicum of confidence, dreams, goals, marketable skills, ambitions and the independent spirit to “sail thou forth, to seek and find.“
And this is, sadly, where the proverbial “s” hits the proverbial “f.” Shit-fan. Get it? When you set about living your life your way and not being the “good daughter” as your mother defines it. Well! This is where your “nice mother” suddenly crosses a line! A line marked with a cute little plaque that says, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, I am my mother after all.”
She stares into the mirror and grieves the youth she never had. As she traces the crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes, she remembers the ex-boyfriend who made her extraordinarily happy. As she notices how crepey her skin has become, she regrets the career, the freedom, the independence she gave up in her 20s, 30s and now her 50s and 60s to “dance attendance” trying to please her thoroughly unpleasable mother.
Then she looks at you with your youthful beauty, your smooth supple skin and the sparkle of excitement still in your eyes and your dreams for the future just ready for you to grasp them. And something snaps.
That’s not what a good daughter does! A good daughter doesn’t “sail thou forth.” No! A good daughter stays safely at home, working a little job, waiting for the Mommy-approved man to come along. A good daughter obeys her mother. A good daughter tries to please her mother. She is available to her aging mother, responding to her beck, jumping at her call. That’s what a good daughter does. Didn’t she raise you better than that!?!
When speaking of her twenty-six year old son’s wedding, a narcissist once mournfully told me that she “Wasn’t done being a mother.” If your mother is the daughter of a narcissist, you may well find yourself being “mothered” well beyond the range when anyone needs to be mothered. Why? So you don’t escape. So you will dance attendance on her just as she danced attendance on her mother. Fair’s fair! The wheel has turned and it’s time she got some of her own back.
Dreams for the future? Independence? Freedom? Kiss them goodbye. After all, that’s what she did to be a “good daughter.”
Move away? Absolutely not! She’s not getting any younger, you know. Who will care for her in her old age? You certainly won’t be one of “those people” who stick their parents in a nursing home … after all she did for you!? Look at how she’s caring for her own mother in her own home. The sacrifices she’s making!
She raised you better than that.
Make-up? Clothes? Shoes? She will control them. Fish the tissue out of her sleeve to dab off your lipstick and wipe your eyeliner. Disapprove of cleavage showing. Goodbye heels, hello ugly comfortable shoes.
Romance? Mommy will either disapprove or become much too chummy with your boyfriend. If you show him any affection though, you’re labeled “easy” and a “whore.” She’ll inquire where the “unholy union” will be joined. (True story!) It almost seems like she hates to see you desirable and attractive to men when her own romantic relationship has fizzled and cooled.
Career? Mommy will sneer. It’s always been a sore point for her, not having her own “career.” She doesn’t mind if you have a “job,” but “career” is a word she spits out with venom.
In an unguarded moment, you may yourself in a flow-of-consciousness way, saying “Y’know, Mom, you’re a lot like your mother.”
Prepare for the shock of your life! What could be so bad? I mean, your mother loves her mother to distraction. Right?
Prepare for your usually nice mother’s face to contort with anger as she yells, “Don’t you ever say that to me again. I am not like my mother.” Yet she won’t admit to herself just how much she despises Grandma. How Grandma ruined her life. How she herself is now ruining your life. (True story!)
Jealousy. Control. Envy. Martyring oneself. Lack of empathy. Where have we heard all this before? Ah, yes. Narcissism 101.
Now we must ask the difficult question. Has our “nice mother” actually become a narcissist!? In a cruel twist of fate, has the abused become the abuser? Has your mother caught “fleas” from your grandmother? Even become a full-fledged narcissist herself?
You labored under the delusion that life was to be lived. You just assumed your mother raised you to “sail forth” and enjoy life. Now you find it was all a lie. Life, apparently, is about dancing attendance on your mother or at least being a perennially available support system. She just assumes you will be exactly the kind of daughter she was: miserable.
But you have no intentions of following in her footsteps. You won’t relinquish your life and happiness like she did. As far as you’re concerned, her example showed you what not to do.
Truth be told, your mom doesn’t need any help. She’s an adult woman; you’re an adult woman. She’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself. You believe she can be and should be responsible for herself just as you are responsible for yourself. You see no reason to coddle her, to play to her weakness and humor her paranoia. You see no virtue in martyring yourself on the altar of Daughterdom. And she can sure as Hell keep her hands off your man. Those hugs were just a little too long, a little too close. They made him uncomfortable and you furious!
So, are you a good daughter or a bad daughter? Good, I think. Very good. Why? Because you’re not going to turn into a narcissist on some future dark day. You’ll never find yourself saying, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall. I am my mother and grandmother after all, damn it!” A little “selfishness” today keeps the narcissism at bay!