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May 5, 2022

I Didn’t Know I was a Narcissistic Mother (& you may be Too).

 

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I forced my way into motherhood.

I wasn’t taking no for an answer.

The inability to get pregnant could have humbled me, taught me to surrender to the universal intelligence, the right timing.

Instead, it just retraumatized me.

I came dangerously close to failing as a woman and I wasn’t going to let that happen.

Not to me.

~

When I finally became a mother—I lost my mind.

Love never felt like that before. It wasn’t even love. It was hysteria. It was intensity. It was the need to control. It was acute scarcity. It was fear. It was ancestral trauma perpetuated. It was karmic loops toward sacrifice.

It was expectation, and with it, disappointment and pain.

Somewhere deep inside I understood that I was blessed with a gift. Everyone always speaks of motherhood as a gift. Except, I misunderstood the meaning of it.

I thought my children would heal me. I went to great lengths to bring them into this life, so I could feel complete, adequate, finally normal.

My pregnancy became a conquest—a win. It felt like an answer to so many existential questions for which I had no answers at the time. With my daughter’s birth, I finally had a perfect connection to another human being. We were inseparable, for a while.

I did not know then that when we cling too tightly to our children we hinder not only their growth, but our own as well.

I also did not know that when we are not connected to our sense of self, we cannot connect to our children.

Just like my own parents, I used my children to help me feel better about myself. Rejecting qualities in them which I could not accept in myself, I deprived my children of their full humanness. As Lisa Marchiano explores in her book Motherhood, since most of parents are unconscious about this process, it becomes “a kind of trauma that exiles an essential part of our child’s soul to the dark forest of the unconscious.”

All parents will inevitably project rejected aspects of themselves onto their children. It shows up like this: If we have struggled to stay thin and our child is gaining weight, we might react to this with outsized shaming. If we’ve been shy or introverted during childhood, we might cringe to see our child sitting alone at a birthday party. If we’ve suffered from feelings of inadequacy, our child’s underachievement may bring up feelings of rage, anxiety, or sadness.

To understand what it means to love my children in a deeply connected way, I needed to learn to love and accept all of me, especially the parts that felt like failure.

Until then, I was using my children to regulate my own narcissistic needs, taking their behavior and achievement as a means for self-validation.

Of course, this is how most of our relationships are built: we objectify people in relationships with us as need fulfillers, expecting them to make us feel better about ourselves, or elevate our self-esteem via their achievements. As a defense against our own feelings of inadequacy, many women display narcissistic tendencies by constructing our identity from our husbands, our homes, and our children. Children who are high achievers reflect to us how we would like to be perceived. Children who are not high achievers reflect to us our own failures and are often rejected, if not ostracized, for doing so.

Twenty-three years into my motherhood, I understand that my children could not make me whole. Could not make me a success. Could not give me love or make me feel like I belong.

No one could do that.

It is my job.

Gradually, I am becoming a parent worthy of my children as I work on reparenting my own inner child. My sense of self is no longer tied to their life choices but is cultivated through gentleness and compassion toward myself.

Today, I am convinced that it is only when we understand what it means to nurture our own inner child that we will have prepared the way to nurture another human being.

My real children are imperfect humans, very different from the little dolls I was yearning to play house with. I had to learn to love the children I have, not the children I dreamed of. And to love my dear, real children in a deeply connected way took profound acceptance of my own imperfect self.

To use Marchiano’s words, “Accepting what is messy, untamed, and undesirable in our children is about accepting those messy children in your own soul who may never before have received love and acceptance.”

We cannot be the parents we want to be to our children without first reparenting ourselves.

Until then, our abusive inner dialogue, the way we judge ourselves, is the violence that will inevitably spill onto our children.

Of course, our relationship with our self reflects how we were treated by our own parents growing up. Authentic, loving connection to our self and healthy self-esteem weren’t modeled to most of us, are rare, and need to be taught.

When I speak about reparenting work with my coaching clients, we often bump against the fact that none of us know what healthy parenting (or healthy relating, for that matter) even feels like, so how are we supposed to know how to reparent ourselves?

The work of reparenting is first of all about compassion and gentleness. It is also about attunement to and satisfaction of our needs: needs for rest, for pleasure, for play. Another quite difficult place to get to is healthy self-esteem. Reversing our habitual, judgmental, and critical inner voice, healthy self-esteem is our capacity to hold ourselves lovingly in the face of our mistakes and imperfections.

It also helps to understand that when we get triggered in our adult relationships, it is our younger parts that react and act up. Same when we get triggered while parenting! This one took me some time to understand. Once I saw who was fighting with my children, instead of the usual self-hate and self-shaming, I was able to lean in to that adaptive inner child part of me and give her warmth and tenderness instead.

When I replaced the internalized emotional violence with loving, it caused a revolution in my life. Learning to reparent myself opened me to relating to others with real intimacy. As I learn to accept my flawed self, it becomes more natural to accept the people I love in their entirety.

As I allow myself time and resources to find and pursue what fills me and satisfies my needs, I model to my daughters permission to do the same.

As I liberate my daughters from the responsibility to fill and complete me, I leave them to find all the ways they can fill themselves. Find what makes their heart swell with knowing. Heal those family wounds that I faithfully passed on to them. As I free them from my notions of right and wrong, I give them space to develop their own values.

I no longer vampirize my children to elevate me and make me feel less alone.

I free them from that impossible task.

I free them to pursue their own joy, now that they no longer have to maintain mine.
~

Learn how to reparent your inner child and create intimate relationships with others. Contact me for a free introductory conversation.

~

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