During our last therapy session, we spent some time talking about my mother’s rejection of me and her emotional abuse while I was growing up and that continued into my adult years. My mother is an unrepentant somatic narcissist, probably malignant, who is in her 80’s now and will never change. She has never had the slightest bit of insight into her behaviors and in her mind, it’s always everyone else who has a problem, never her. She has never been in therapy, that I know of, outside of Alcoholics Anonymous. Granted, AA is a great program for those who need it, but as far as she’s concerned, drinking was the only problem she’d ever admit to. Once she got sober and worked the steps (perfectly of course–she would never have a relapse!), she used the program to become even more judgmental and intolerant of other’s foibles (if she didn’t like the way you were acting, you were on a “dry drunk.”) She uses AA the way some some people use religion–to shame and belittle. She’s never thought deeply about anything, or ever shown the slightest desire to dig any deeper into herself. It never occurred to her that her alcoholism was most likely a symptom of a deeper disorder (narcissistic personality disorder), not the primary problem.
Once she got sober, whenever I’d try to talk to her about my feelings, she showed absolutely no empathy. All she’d ever do was judge or compare me to others who were doing better. If I was having a problem with someone else or at work, she’d always take their side, invalidating my feelings and grinding them into the dirt for good measure. Whenever I tried to point out that she’d hurt my feelings, she’d always turn the tables back on me, refusing to take any responsibility. Her response was always, “You’re too sensitive,” or “I’m not responsible for the way you feel” or “You CHOOSE to feel the way you do.” She was never wrong, and I never was able to talk to her about anything that mattered. I always clammed up in her presence like a little mouse, even well into midlife. Three years ago I stopped trying to reach her and stopped taking her phone calls (thank goodness for caller ID!) because I always felt awful any time we talked. No matter how good a mood I was in, she always had a way of ruining it, and making me doubt myself again. To this day, I still hold onto my terror of her, even though I know how irrational it is.
But as this is not a blog about narcissistic abuse, I’m not going to belabor the things she (in collusion with my father, who is likely a codependent Borderline or Covert Narcissist) did to me and the way they mindf*cked me during my formative years.
My therapist agrees with me about No Contact. He doesn’t think our relationship is healthy and agrees with me that a futile attempt at reconciliation would never work. But he did ask me if (in my imagination) there was anything she could do that would make me change my mind about her or give her another chance. I had to think about this, but I finally came up with this: a letter (or email) sincerely apologizing for every abusive thing she’d ever done or said to me and not only saying “I’m sorry” (those are just words you can find on a Hallmark card) but promising to make a sincere effort to act loving and accepting toward me in the future and recanting the past. To me, that’s what making amends is about, not some AA step that she’s required to take and only consists of a trite “I’m sorry” (and only being sorry for the behaviors caused by drinking).
Of course I know it would never happen, but sometimes I do fantasize about how lovely it would be if my mother suddenly changed, realized that she’d been the problem all along, and made a sincere attempt to make everything up to me. I don’t even know how that would be possible, but my therapist asked me to try writing a hypothetical letter she might write to me if it were. So I decided to try this exercise.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about our relationship, and about your childhood, and about all the things your Dad and I could have done differently. I can’t speak for your father, but I’ll speak for myself.
I admit I was a terrible mother. You were a sensitive child and I should have treasured and cherished and nurtured that, and helped you grow into your sensitivity and not put you down for it, or acted as if there was something defective about you for feeling everything so deeply. You were never the defective one, but unfortunately you were at the mercy of my own defectiveness as a mother. I won’t say I shouldn’t have had children, because then you would not be here, but if there was only a way to turn back time and do everything over, the same way Bill Murray did everything over in “Groundhog Day” until he finally got it right, I would, a million times over. It hurt me so much to see how damaged you were by the ways I gaslighted, shamed, triangulated against, insulted, diminished, ignored, and judged you. As a baby, I should have mirrored your feelings. I shouldn’t have left you to cry alone in your room with the door shut, ignoring you and bragging to everyone about how my shutting the door against your cries always got you to shut up. I should have gone in there, picked you up, and held you against me and kissed and stroked you until you fell asleep or smiled.
There are so many other things I would do differently now if I could have. I should have always put your emotional needs ahead of mine. Yes, I know in the 1970s the culture didn’t encourage women to put their children first in those days, and you were seen as a throwback, but there really are no excuses, are there? When you have a child, no matter what the society says, that child’s emotional needs should come first. I know you needed me, you needed to feel you had a mother who accepted you for who you were, but all I did was criticize you for being who you were, whether it was your particular body type or your hair, or the clothes you wore, or the interests you had. I tried to make you into my own image, and now I see how wrong that was.
I am an old woman now and am not going to be here too much longer, but I couldn’t be at peace with myself until I said this to you. If you never want to speak to me again, I understand. I don’t deserve your love or even the time of day from you. I am not going to ask you to call or write me back. I’m not trying to get any narcissistic supply (yes, I’ve read all the books about narcissism now!) so am asking for nothing in return. But if you ever decide you want to have a relationship with me before I pass on, I want you to know that I accept you unconditionally for who you are. I take back everything I ever said to you or anyone else about you being a loser, or a fuckup, or crazy, or all the cruel things I said about you always making bad choices and never learning from your mistakes. We all make mistakes and bad choices, and I am telling you I have made far more than my fair share.
Lauren, you are a good, strong person and always were. What happened to you was not your fault. The problems you have today are rooted in the emotional abuse you endured for so long.
I love you. I just wished I knew how to love you when my love mattered the most.
I love you,