Earlier this year, I surveyed 1,722 Daughters Of Narcissistic Mothers, with a focus on their own experiences of motherhood.
This post is the first of two that provides an overview of the responses of women who completed the survey.
Like many forms of child abuse and neglect, the truth of these relationships is bound in secrecy, shame, and guilt. Narcissistic mothers visit a special kind of trauma on their daughters; one from which most do not recover. Most Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers fear that they are the only ones whose mothers don’t love them. These daughters often carry a conviction throughout their lives that if their own mothers don’t love them, then nobody will.
As Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, our sorrow is a secret wrapped in shame that serves to silence us. Some of us think that, once we become mothers ourselves, we will better understand our own mothers – but that’s rarely the case. For many DONMs, becoming mothers themselves reinforces how unloved they were, and highlights how deep their wounds are. For others, the fear that stems from having been raised by an unloving mother impacts them so negatively that they deliberately choose childlessness.
‘If my mother doesn’t love me, then nobody ever will. How could they?’ This poignant question is one I have heard several times in my discussions – formal, and informal – with women whose mothers were narcissists. Starkly, one of the respondents to my survey revealed ‘Up until about age 40 I wanted to kill myself every day.’
Research focusing on narcissistic mothers tends to centre on how likely the children of narcissists are to become narcissists themselves, rather than on how having a narcissist as a mother impacts on their children (their daughters in particular).
Mothers do not need to be perfect; but children do need a ‘good enough mother’. Such a good enough mother, is one who makes active adaptations that gradually lessen as the child becomes more adept at navigating the world, and their place in it. Narcissistic mothers, however, do not provide these adaptations.
All my respondents reported knowing that they were unloved by their mothers, and all but 30 of them reported feeling unloved by their mothers before they were teenagers. Of these women, only 15% said they did not blame themselves for the fact that their mothers didn’t love them. Some women went further and declared that their mothers ‘hated’ them.
Jealousy was another emotion attributed to the mothers referred to in this study, with 91% of the participants revealing that their mothers displayed signs of jealousy towards them.
One woman shared that she ‘could never fathom why on earth she was jealous of me. She did everything in her power to tear me down, and undo the few advantages I had secured for myself.’
Some women reported that their mothers’ jealousy extended to sabotage. One of the respondents spoke of how her mother was so consumed by jealousy when she saw how her daughter enjoyed a higher standard of living overseas, that she insisted her daughter return to the land of her birth. This respondent failed to see the jealousy and sabotage for what it was because she couldn’t believe that a mother could be jealous of her own daughter.
‘We’re told that all mothers want the best for their children, so I couldn’t understand why mine wouldn’t want what was best for me,’ she finished.
It is a bewildering set of messages for anyone to receive, but particularly so for a child who is dependent – physically and emotionally – on someone who presses that child to be worthy of her, but not to be so accomplished as to eclipse her mother. As a result, the child is under pressure to be both subservient to the mother’s superiority; and to shine for her, on her terms.
Of the women who took part in my survey, 54% reported that they considered not having children on account of how their mothers treated them. Almost 23% of respondents disclosed that they deliberately chose not to have children because they were afraid their own parenting would be as poor as that of their mothers. As one respondent poignantly reported ‘I decided I was too damaged by my mother to have children of my own.’
Another woman revealed that she often feels ‘less of a person as I haven’t had children, but I couldn’t risk being a mother like the one I had.’
One respondent had her fallopian tubes tied when she was 28. In her early thirties, she realised that her mother was a narcissist, and that ‘many of my fears of being a mother were crafted by my experience with my mom. I wonder, now, if I would have had children if I’d experienced being loved as a child.’
This woman’s experiences are almost mirrored by another, who wrote:
‘I am beginning to grieve the children I haven’t had – that I didn’t have because I didn’t want to make the same mistakes with my children that my mum made with me.’
Yet another Daughter of a Narcissistic Mother explained her decision to have no children by saying that she ‘knew intuitively that I would damage my own children like my mother damaged us’.
In her late forties, one participant revealed that, as a young woman of 23, she had eschewed sexual relationships with men. She chose, instead, to have same-sex relationships ‘because (her) fear of becoming pregnant was so great.’
‘My worry is that I will become like her,’ one woman confided. ‘I would rather never have children than have them, and make them feel how myself and my siblings have felt our whole lives. Worthless.’
Another respondent mentioned that she never intended to have children and then ‘it happened unexpectedly. He’s the best thing I ever did, but I wonder if I’m the best thing for him.’
She is not alone in expressing trepidation around becoming a parent: Another woman confided that she delayed having children, because
‘I didn’t know parenting brought joy. I thought all mothers hated their children.’
For one woman, being the Daughter of a Narcissistic Mother ‘made being a mother myself really hard. I have to try not to be my mother but sometimes the genetics just come out, and then I hate myself.’
Many of us DONMs can relate to this feeling – we hear ourselves speak with our mothers’ voices when we’re stressed / anxious / tired. The difference between us and our mothers, however, is that we apologise. Since they were toddlers, I’ve gone to my daughters and sought their forgiveness for outbursts that they didn’t deserve. I’ve explained that they don’t deserve to be yelled at, or spoken to sharply (unless they are in danger), and told them that I will try harder to be the mother they deserve. And I do.
Tomorrow, I’ll be looking at going low, or no, contact with your narcissistic mother.