Authors: Karyl McBride
Tags: #General, #Psychology, #Family & Relationships, #Interpersonal Relations, #Self-Help, #Family Relationships, #Personal Growth
“Dr. McBride has done a wonderful job of capturing the torment suffered by women raised by narcissistic mothers. This easy to understand and useful volume guides women out of the trap of seeking acceptance to prove their self-worth. This clearly written book helps the reader identify the subtle presentations of narcissism and demonstrates through case examples how these traits in a mother can shape a woman’s perspective of herself, her world, and her relationships. Dr. McBride should be commended for her unique contribution to our understanding of this emotionally entangled family dynamic.”
—Monica Ramirez Basco, Ph.D., author of
Never Good Enough: How to Use Perfection to Your Advantage without Letting It Ruin Your Life
Getting Your Life Back: The Complete Guide to Recovery from Depression
“Dr. McBride has broken new and exceptionally important ground in exploring a critical area in parenting. This book is must reading for both the professional and the layperson who want to understand and successfully address the lifelong and potentially devastating impact of narcissistic child rearing. It is filled with useful information and recommendations presented in a readable form.”
—David N. Bolocofsky, J.D., Ph.D., family law attorney and former professor of psychology
“Excellent clinical information about the effects of narcissistic mothers on their daughters, written clearly for all women struggling with this issue. The recovery section offers a rich variety of ideas and techniques to use in everyday life.”
—Linda Vaughan, Licensed Professional Counselor (L.P.C.)
“Dr. McBride does a beautiful job of describing the many faces of narcissism. I found this book extremely engaging and easy to read, and yet it is also highly informative, practical, and structured in its treatment approach. This is a ‘must-read’ for anyone dealing with a loved one who is narcissistic.”
—Renee Richker, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist
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Copyright © 2008 by Dr. Karyl McBride
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Will I ever be good enough? Healing the daughters of narcissistic mothers/Karyl McBride.
Includes bibliographical references.
1. Narcissism. 2. Self-acceptance. 3. Mothers and daughters—Psychology. I. McBride, Karyl. II. Title.
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The examples, anecdotes, and characters in this book are drawn from my clinical work, research, and life experience with real people and events. Names and some identifying features and details have been changed, and in some instances people or situations are composites.
Dedicated to five people who
taught me the essence of unconditional love:
For me, writing a book meant slamming into brick walls, climbing them, facing them again, climbing them yet again—an Olympic-size mental workout. It has been stressful, but most importantly, a meaningful labor of love, and certainly a task one does not master in isolation. While a thank-you seems hardly enough, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the special people who accompanied me on this trek of passion.
First and foremost, my children and grandchildren: Nate and Paula, Meg and Dave, McKenzie, Isabella, Ken and Al. The love, patience, understanding, and encouragement of family can never be valued highly enough. I love you all so very much.
My agent, Susan Schulman: Your belief in me and this topic repeatedly amazed me. Your professionalism, kindness, hard work, and support will never be forgotten.
Leslie Meredith, senior editor at Free Press: A special gratitude for your keen editorial assistance, your acuity in understanding the sensitive material, and your sincere belief in the need for this book.
Donna Loffredo, editorial assistant at Free Press: Thank you, Donna, for your kind patience with my never-ending questions. I could always hear your warm smile over the phone lines!
Thanks to the staff at Free Press for the final phases of “spit and polish”! Jeanette Gingold and Edith Lewis, your copyediting work on the manuscript was not only detailed and brilliant, but so very respectful.
Beth Lieberman: Your editing expertise and ability to hang in there caused many days of gratitude. Thank you so much for everything.
Other professionals who assisted with initial editing, proposal work, ideas, and support: Schatzie, Dr. Doreen Orion, Colleen Hubbard, Liz Netzel, Jan Snyder, and Laura Bellotti. A special thanks to you all.
Professional colleagues who took time out of their busy schedules to be readers: Dr. Renee Richker, Dr. David Bolocofsky, and Linda Vaughan. How kind of each of you to offer your time and support, when I know you are all so busy. I am more than grateful for your professional input!
Dr. Jim Gregory, thank you so much for the health section consultation. Your time and kindness are greatly appreciated.
Chris Passerella, the Web site guru with Kitzmiller Design, you were and are so awesome. Thank you for all your time, technical work, and support.
Chris Segura, with Chris’ Computer Consulting, Inc., your computer assistance was always timely and helpful. Thanks for the formatting guidance at the eleventh hour. Your patience with my lack of computer sense was a gift.
A special thanks to the people who helped keep me organized and fixed those things that were falling down around me: Gretchen Byron, Carolina Dilullo, Helen Laxson, Marv Endes, Frank Martin, Linda Fangman, and Jessica Dennis.
Tama Kieves and Peg Blackmore: my inspiration and professional support system. You both rock with maternal kindness and blanket understanding.
My dear friends who gave support with love, smiles, hugs, and encouragement: Kay Brandt, Kate Heit, Jim Gronewold, Jim Vonderohe, the Saccomanno crew: Franklin (neighborhood smiles at dawn), Frank (from curmudgeons to Pollyannas and round and round), Gianna (superhero), and Anthony (you rock). E-hugs and thanks to my fifth-grade pal Jimmy Hirsch.
A special thank-you to Ethel Kloos-Fenn from Applied Research Consultants for initial research assistance. I love you and miss you, Ethel.
Thanks to my parents for teaching me about perseverance, good work ethic, and fighting for what you believe in. “Get back on the horse” had an impact!
And finally, a deeply felt thank-you is expressed to the remarkable clients and interviewees who gave time and emotional energy to share personal stories so that other people could be helped. I cannot name you, but you know who you are. This book could not have been written without you and your spirited, daring sense of courage.
Our relationship with Mother is birthed simultaneously with our entry into the world. We take our first breath of life, and display the initial dependent, human longing for protection and love in her presence. We are as one in the womb and on the birthing table. This woman, our mother…all that she is and is not…has given us life. Our connection with her in this instant and from this point forward carries with it tremendous psychological weight for our lifelong well-being. Oddly, I have never wanted to believe this.
First, being a feminist-era mom myself, I didn’t want mothers and women to bear so much responsibility or ultimate blame if things go wrong. Certainly many factors other than mothering shape a child’s life. Second, I didn’t want to face how feeling like an unmothered child had such a devastating effect on me and my life. To acknowledge this meant I had to face it.
While doing research over the years, I have read many books that discuss the mother-daughter bond. Each time I read a different volume, unexpected tears would stream down my cheeks. For I could not recall attachment, closeness, memories of the scent of Mother’s perfume, the feel of her skin, the sound of her voice singing in the kitchen, the solace of her rocking, holding and comforting, the intellectual stimulation and joy of being read to.
I knew this was not natural, but could not find a book that explained this lack. It made me feel somewhat crazy. Was I delusional, or just a chick with a poor memory? I could not find a book that explained that this phenomenon of feeling unmothered could be a real deal and that there could be mothers who are not maternal. Nor could I find a book that discussed the conflicted feelings that their daughters have about these mothers, the frustrated love, and even sometimes the hatred. Because good girls aren’t supposed to hate their mothers, they don’t talk about these bad feelings. Motherhood is a sacred institution in most cultures and therefore is generally not discussed in a negative light. When I decided to write a book on mothers who don’t mother their daughters, and the pain this causes girls and adult daughters, I felt as if I were breaking a taboo.
Reading books about the mother-daughter bond always gave me the sensation of a deep loss and the fear that I was alone in this suffering. Experts wrote of the complexity of the mother-daughter connection, how it is rife with conflict and ambivalence, but I felt something different—a void, a lack of empathy and interest, and a lack of feeling loved. For many years, I did not understand and tried to rationalize it. Other members of the family and well-intentioned therapists explained it away with various excuses. Like a good girl, I tried to make excuses and take all the blame. It was not until I began to understand that the emotional void was a characteristic result of maternal narcissism that the pieces began to fit together. The more I learned about maternal narcissism, the more my experience, my sadness, and my lack of memory made sense. This understanding was the key to my beginning to recover my own sense of identity, apart from my mother. I became more centered, taking up what I now call substantial space, no longer invisible (even to myself) and not having to make myself up as I go along. Without understanding, we flail around, we make mistakes, feel deep unworthiness, and sabotage ourselves and our lives.
Writing this book has been a culmination of years of research and a soul journey that took me back to when I was a little girl who knew something was wrong, feeling that the absence of nurturing was not normal, but not knowing why. I am writing this book now in the hopes that I can help other women understand that those feelings were and are not their fault.
This does not mean that I want you to blame your mother. This is not a journey of projected anger, resentment, or rage, but one of understanding. We want to heal ourselves and we have to do that with love and forgiveness for ourselves and our mothers. I do not believe in creating victims. We are accountable for our own lives and feelings. To be healthy, we first have to understand what we experienced as daughters of narcissistic mothers, and then we can move forward in recovery to make things the way they need to be for us. Without understanding our mothers and what their narcissism did to us, it is impossible to recover. We have been taught to repress and deny, but we have to face the truth of our experiences—that our longing for a maternal warmth and mothering is not going to be fulfilled and our wishing and hoping that things will be different are not going to change things. As girls, we were programmed to look at the dynamics of the family in a positive light, even though we knew we lived under a shadow. Our families usually did look good to outsiders, but though we sensed something was wrong, we were told that really “it is nothing.” This kind of emotional environment and dishonesty can be crazy-making. Smile, be pretty, and act like everything’s good. Sound familiar?
I am still amazed whenever I talk to other daughters of narcissistic mothers at the similarities of our internal emotional landscapes. We may have different lifestyles and outward appearances for the world to see, but inside, we wave the same emotional banners. My greatest hope is that this book will offer you acknowledgment and validation for your profound emotions and allow you to feel whole, healthy, and authentic in who you are today.
In writing this book, I had to fight many internal battles. First, I had to trust my ability to do it, as I am a therapist, not a writer. Second, and of more interest, I had to talk to my mother about it. When I brought it up with Mother, I said to her, “Hey, Mom, I need your help. I am writing a book about mothers and daughters and I need your input, suggestions, and permission to use some personal material.” My mother, bless her heart, said, “Why don’t you write a book about fathers?” And of course, she was worried about being a bad mother, which would be expected. She was able to give me her blessing, however, and I think it is because she was trying to understand that this is not a book about blame, but a book about healing. I have to admit I wanted her to say many things like: “Are there some things we need to discuss or work on together?” “Do you have pain from your childhood?” “Is there anything we can do about it now?” “Can we heal together?” None of this happened, but after all these years of my own recovery work, I knew not to expect her to be able to do this empathic inquiry. I was grateful that I had mustered the nerve to broach the book to her, which admittedly took me some time to do. At one time in my life, this exchange would have been unthinkable.
Somehow, after taking this risk, I found it easier to move forward and be authentic in talking about my own experience as well as about my research. Although it would have felt emotionally safe to write at arm’s length from a purely clinical perspective, I hope that my own stories of being a daughter of a narcissistic mother will help you know that I do understand. I have been there.
I’ve divided the book into three parts that parallel my approach to psychotherapy. Part 1 explains the problem of maternal narcissism. Part 2 shows the impact of the problem, its many effects, and how it plays out in daughters’ lifestyles. Part 3 is a road map for recovery.
I invite you now to come with me to learn about yourself and your mother. It won’t always be a comfortable and easy trip. You’ll be emerging from denial, confronting difficult feelings, being vulnerable, and facing characteristics of your own that you may not like. It is an emotional undertaking. Sometimes you will find it funny. Other times you will feel a great sadness as you try to understand what you experienced and heal from it. By doing so, you will change the legacy of distorted maternal love and make a lasting difference for your daughters, sons, and grandchildren. As you face the honest reflections of your life patterns, you will ultimately like yourself more and become better at parenting, in relationships, and in everything else in your life.
Emotional legacies are like genetic legacies; they pass along to each generation without anyone really taking a lot of notice. Some of the “hand me downs” are endearing and wonderful and we feel grateful and proud, but some are heartbreaking and destructive. They need to be stopped. We need to stop them. Having done my own recovery work from my distorted maternal legacy, I can say that I’ve been there and I can help you change yours too.
I welcome you to read further with me. Sit with me, talk with me, cry with me, laugh with me. Together we will begin to deal with the reality of your emotional legacy. Even if it’s always been “all about Mom,” it’s your turn now. It gets to be about you, the “you” that maybe you’ve never discovered or didn’t even know existed.