There are certain milestones a woman never forgets. Her first kiss. The day she lost her virginity. Her first menstrual period. The day she became A Woman.
Becoming a Woman
I remember my first period with a shudder becomes of one unhappy detail: I was wearing men’s underwear when it happened. It was my mother who forced me to wear men’s boxers against my furious protests. What should have been a beautiful feminine moment was warped because I was unhappily wearing ugly, blue, men’s boxer shorts that I hated.
I reference that story because it perfectly illustrates the struggle the daughter of a narcissistic mother undergoes to achieve adulthood and womanhood with Mom fighting her, tooth-and-nail, every step of the way.
Your Narcissistic Mother is The Woman.
No matter how experienced, how successful, how old, how wrinkled you become, she is The Woman. Mother Superior. She will never look you in the eye, grasp your hand and acknowledge you as an equal nor as an adult nor as an Equal Adult Woman.
My grandmother never acknowledged my mother as her equal. My mother never acknowledged me as her equal. They both demanded the role of superior female dominating the inferior female and succeeded.
“Take motherhood out of the equation. View the quagmire in which you’re mired as just two unrelated women. When you take the Cult of Motherhood out of scenario, woman-on-woman abuse will make your stomach churn.”
It’s Her Agenda
Your mother set the agenda for you before you were born. Some of you ladies were pigeonholed as your mother’s scapegoat. Other daughters were born to give their mothers the vicarious life she always dreamed of living.
Some of you were designated to be your mother’s covert incest pseudo-spouse. Like me, you were forced to spoon with your mother, to submit to having her wash your genitals when you were old enough to do it for yourself and to have no privacy and no lock on your bedroom door. She waltzed in and out of the most private areas of your life, irregardless of your age. My mother was the first person to touch my breast. I was fifteen years old.
I was assigned the role of Mother’s Friend. She wasn’t much good at making or keeping friends, so she gave birth to her lifelong friend, just as her mother had done before her.
I was my mother’s only friend and, for much of my life, she was my only friend. She made sure of that. It only took a hint or two and I would kick my girlfriends to the curb to please my mother and avoid shaming, censure and furious pouting. Love-bombing will make you do that.
But it was friendship with a twist: she called the shots. This friend could destroy me for the smallest infraction, real or imagined, of her rules.
A controlling mother can be understood. A controlling friendship can be terminated. But when Control, Friendship and Motherhood are combined it forms a toxic mixture from which a good daughter cannot escape.
Because of this cringeworthy experience, I can never have a female friend. The very thought makes me want to vomit. I am terrified of women, especially those older than me.
She Owns You
Your mother isn’t just The Woman. Actually, she owns you: heart, soul, body, relationships, sexuality, finances…everything.
Oh! You think I meant that symbolically? Hyperbolically?
Honey, I mean it literally. Practically. Exactly as written.
You do not belong to yourself. You belong to your Narcissistic Mother.
If you have it, she owns it. It is hers…lock, stock and barrel. She may dole out a facet of yourself to you…temporarily. But she can snatch it back at any moment, for any reason…or none at all. You’re merely a marionette dancing while she pulls your strings.
This godlike status was instilled in me from babyhood. If I was naughty, I went flying to my mother to confess and be forgiven. She demanded I narc on myself which I faithfully did, regardless of how much she would “yell” at me before pronouncing unto me the Forgiveness of Mother. With her seeming ability to look into my soul and ferret out sin (real, projected or imagined), she owned my soul, my spirituality, my Eternal Fate.
Growing up changes bupkis. You may be an adult woman numerically but your mother still controls everything. She decides when and if you can have privacy when you’re bathing or dressing (you can’t.) She controls if you can shave and exactly which parts of yourself you’re allowed to shave. She controls your hair, makeup, nail color. She dictates what style of shoes and clothes you may wear. (“You can’t have that. It looks too good on you.”) She may confiscate your make-up, your nail clipper or forbid you from touching your own face, as my parents did.
She will hold up your mail to the light as my Mom laughed about doing. She will demand your passwords. She will read your emails. She controls where you go, when you go, if you go and with whom you go. A good rule of thumb is that if Mom doesn’t do XY, then you’re not allowed to do XY either. For me, that meant things like staying out past dusk or driving freeways or moving out of Mommy’s home into a home of my own.
She may tell you what jobs to keep and which jobs to quit. And if you’re allowed to date at all, she decides who you may go out with and when you will dump him…no cogent reason required.
If you take the “mother” part out of this dynamic, it’s freaking creepy. One adult woman so completely dominating another adult woman requires strong words like “violation.”
The Other Woman
It’s entirely possible you may have a lovely relationship with your (engulfing) narcissistic mother as a little girl.
But when puberty hits…! All Hell will break loose. You don’t merely become a woman with your first menstrual period. Oh no! You become The Other Woman. A threat. The competition.
I remember when it happened for me. One day I was struggling to adjust to that fakakta “training bra” and the next day Mom was taking me aside and telling me that I was no longer allowed to hug my father. “He’s a man and you’re a woman,” she said, smiling smarmily. Duggar-style hugs only, please, and if he does “accidentally” bump your breasts…which began to happen at puberty and became an almost daily “accidental attempt” in my late twenties…she told me to always tell her. Then the victim could be angrily lectured and blamed every time I “failed” to “protect myself.”
Thus the father/daughter relationship that should never have been sexualized was sexualized by the woman who should’ve been the last person on Earth to want it to be sexualized: my mother. From then on, every time my father came near me, I seized up with paranoia, with guilt. Helluva way to live.
The onset of menstruation made it all worse. Puberty put me squarely in the crosshairs for every insane accusation Mom could dream up while Dad withdrew his love and approval of me due to my dermatillomania…the only stress relief I had to keep me sane. I was desperate to win back his smile which only further convinced my mother that I was being inappropriate to her husband, my biological father. It was a suspicion she never quite forgot, never stopped accusing me of.
As my god, if she implied I was incestuous, I owned that shame. If she said, “you have bad sexual genetics,” I humbled myself and repented. She boomeranged between brightly informing me that I was sexual “whether you know it or not” (as if I didn’t know) to accusing me of planning to find ways to flaunt myself for my father. Later, she decided that pregnancy was “so dangerous” and informed me she was glad I didn’t have a husband. It was a wild, crazy-making ride full of implied slut-shaming.
Despite everything, like the educated idiot that I am, I worshiped the ground that woman walked on. Because her personality was so cheerful (unless crossed), her affection was so warm (clingy!) and her smile was sickly-sweet-smarmy, I trusted her implicitly. Even when she was hugging all over my new husband.
She was The Experienced Wife. I was a newbie.
She was The Woman. I was merely female.
I didn’t feel right unless I had her approval. It was more cult-like than mother/daughter like.
Right of Passage
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s nothing children of narcissists need more than a good old fashioned bar/bat mitzvah. The Right of Passage is intrinsic in so many cultures so why have we jettisoned it? If you were raised by narcs that line-in-the-sand signalling the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood just never happened. There was no Coming of Age. You are “Never 21.” You never know about the Age of Emancipation. Like me, you may have been forced to even give up attending Rites of Passage like your own graduation ceremonies.
There was never a moment when your parent looked you in the eye, grasped your hand and said, “You’re my equal as an adult. You’ve arrived. I respect you as an equal man/equal woman.” My mother gave it lip service, “Of course you’re an adult” but her actions screamed louder than her words.
But now I’m forty. To quote Bette Davis in All About Eve:
“Lloyd, I’m not twentyish.
I am not thirtyish. Three months ago,
I was forty years old.
Forty. Four oh.
That slipped out, I hadn’t quite made up my mind
to admit it.”
When my mother failed to acknowledge her only child’s fortieth birthday, something went click!
I don’t need my mommy anymore.
I don’t believe in the “godlike” image of her anymore. She used your sweetness and cuteness to disguise a shitload of abuse. Frankly, when you look at it all en masse, my mother creeps the hell outta me.
I was one helluva good daughter.
She worked hard to drive me away.
Her loss. Not mine.
I don’t need her.
It’s time I look myself squarely in the eye, grasp my own hand (metaphorically) and say, “You are an Adult Woman in your own right whether your Mommy’s fragile ego can stand it or not. And you’re doing a helluva job running your own life. You don’t need her…and you haven’t needed her for twenty years.”
There are millions of you ladies out there in the same boat. You email me. You post desperate comments. I read them all. The mother/daughter relationship is probably the most talked about relationship, the hardest to escape, the most painful to endure.
But take motherhood out of the equation. View the quagmire in which you’re mired as just two unrelated women. When you take the Cult of Motherhood out of scenario, woman-on-woman abuse will make your stomach churn.
You wouldn’t let a female friend treat you that way. You wouldn’t tolerate it from a lesbian partner. So why are we letting our mothers violate us like this!?!
It’s high time we let Mom attend to her own knittin’ while we attend to ours. Because that’s what it was all about in reality. She positioned us to think we needed her when in reality, she believed she needed us. By sticking around we’re enabling her faux victimhood. The most loving thing we can do is let Mom sink or swim on her own.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I challenge you to do the most bloody, horrifically painful thing I’ve ever had to do: cut ties with your narcissistic mother. It flies in the face of nature, but it must be done.
Don’t let another woman control you, even if she is your mother.