I am delighted to report that Headstuff has published a piece I wrote about Narcissistic Mothers. You can read it here.
On foot of recognising the terrible damage my own narcissistic mother is responsible for, I set up a support group for daughters of narcissistic mothers. It’s a secret group on FB (so no one knows you’re there, except you and the other members).
Being the daughter of a narcissistic mother can be a very lonely place; Society would like us to be very quiet about the fact that our mothers don’t love us. Even people who didn’t have ideal childhoods, even people who were abused by their mothers, find it difficult to believe that there exist mothers who simply refuse to love their daughters. Those of us who have suffered – and those of us who continue to suffer – the terrible impact of narcissistic mothers, however ‘get it’.
In part, that’s why the FB group is such a wonderful place to hang out – it’s populated by wonderful women who completely understand how it feels to have a mother who doesn’t care about you; who pits your siblings against you; who lies about you; who refuses to celebrate your wins; who puts you down at every turn; who is jealous of your every success and attempts to take the good out of it; who cannot bear the idea that you might be happier than she; who is filled with rage at the idea that your standard of living might be better than hers etc. etc. Having somewhere to bring this hurt, where you will be understood, and not judged, is a huge relief.
If you’d like to join, this group, please contact me via this page, DM me on Twitter, or send me a few words on Messenger .
Yesterday, Celeste Erlach’s Facebook rant to (about?) her husband went viral. It was picked up by media outlets across the globe, including our own Irish Independent. She was clearly upset and at the end of her tether, and she called her husband out on his lack of help with the kids – they have two, a baby and a toddler.
I must admit that my initial reaction was ‘Lady, try doing it all on your own, all the time – that’s hard.’ Regular readers will know that I have two daughters with just 26 months between them, and that I have been parenting alone for nigh on 15 years. Then, I caught myself on a bit. I might be all on my own, but Celeste Erlach isn’t. She is married, and has every right to expect that her husband will step up and help. Sure, he’s in an office all day while she’s at home all day – but they are both working. Why does his work stop when he gets home, and hers continues? If she’s married, then she can expect a partner who shares the workload.
I am cautiously aware that this rant only provides one side of the story – and it’s a snapshot of that one side as well. Ms Erlach gives specific examples of what she wishes her husband did better, but there is concern (which was addressed on PJ Coogan’s show on CorkFM this morning) that Facebook is not the place to air marital grievances. Part of me is inclined to agree, though another part of me is aware that only posting ‘the good stuff’ on FB can create anxiety in those who read our status updates – they compare their insides to the outsides presented. I’m all for posting the good with the bad. What I’m not all for, however, is using Facebook as a tool to shame people. Shame is a powerful tool of social control – just ask the Roman Catholic Church who used it to great effect in Ireland – and it’s also an emotion that we don’t talk about very much.
It would appear that there is a lack of communication between Celeste Erlach and her husband and it would also appear – if you look at her Facebook page – that she has used her rant as a vehicle for attention, and to raise her own profile publicly. I’m struck by the banner on her page, though, which reads ‘Ask Yourself: What kind of Mom do you want to be?’ Clearly, Celeste Erlach wants to be the kind of mom who shames and humiliates the father of her children in a very public way. I’m not sure that’s fair on them. Turning to social media to berate the other parent of your child/ren is, I would suggest, potentially damaging to their relationship with that parent, because it smacks of a lack of respect.
I’m not suggesting that this wife and mother doesn’t have legitimate gripes. I’m not suggesting that there multiple ways her husband and the father of her children could help. What I am suggesting, however, is that it might have been kinder, and more useful – to her own family, and to the thousands of people who have viewed, liked, shared, and discussed her rant – if she had shared her concerns privately, found a workable solution with her husband, and shared that publicly. If she had written this letter and given it to him, expressing her frustration, her physical, emotional, and psychological needs and found a workable solution with her husband, that might have been a better post to share to share with her friends and followers.
I think that approach would have been more valuable; no one would have been publicly shamed, humiliated or reprimanded, and her children would have had good conflict resolution modelled for them. I think that’s worth a lot more than a shed-load of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’.
When we are abused, we are often manipulated – usually by our abusers, but often by others – into believing that it’s our own fault. I touched on this a bit yesterday , when I spoke about gaslighting. When you think that something is your own fault, it can be difficult to reach out and ask for help. Often, we believe that, to ask for help, is to admit weakness. In fact, the opposite is true; seeking help is a sign of strength.
Seeking help is admitting that all is not well, and squaring up to the possibility that things might get worse before they get better. Seeking help is a brave thing to do – it is a sign that you have the courage to move on from where you are to where you can be. Seeking help is an act of heroism – a commitment to change, and change is always scary.
There are many different types of help – but they all start with a conversation acknowledging the need for help in the first place. Often, that conversation is with your primary health care worker, but it can equally be with a friend or partner, or a phone service like the Samaritans or a local rape crisis centre. Asking for help is the first step to getting it – and you deserve help. You deserve help to get to a place where you are living your best life. If you’re not living your best life, then you deserve the help you need to get you there.
The thing with getting help as a sexually abused person is that it’s rarely a one-off thing. Or even a one-off capsule of six or eight sessions. The trauma we suffer, as people who have survived sexual abuse, is complex trauma. Part of what this means is that therapy is never just cleanly done and dusted in a few sessions with a suitably qualified therapist. Complex trauma means that we need to deal with different elements as and when they arise; and we will need to deal with things on different levels as and when we are able to. As we learn more about ourselves and more about the situations we were forced into, we approach and deal with that information.
I would always caution people who have been sexually abused to be careful about the kind of help they seek, and accept. One size does not fit all – and very few therapists are not properly trained in working with people who have a history of sexual abuse. It’s – we’re – complicated, and we deserve to work with people who properly understand the long-term, multiple effects of sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse in particular.
If you can, take the time to find the best practitioner for you. Remember, that they work for you – you are not lucky they will see you; they are getting paid to do so, it’s their job. Good work can only be done if you have a good relationship with your therapist. That means clear boundaries (which work both ways and are respected as such), and a sense that you are valued and respected within the therapeutic relationship. I would suggest contacting and interviewing potential therapists. That’s what I did the last time I went in to therapy and I have to say it was hugely empowering. I wrote and gave a brief outline of my history and asked if the therapists I was contacting felt equipped to work with me. I asked for details of their education and accreditation. In Ireland, this is seen as a very odd thing to do, but I know that if I were hiring a building contractor, I’d want to know that they were qualified, were a member of a professional organisation, and I’d also seek references from people for whom they had already carried out similar work. In the case of therapists, that is neither appropriate nor practical, so I am not suggesting you would ask for references for your proposed therapist. But you are allowed to interview them.
Bear in mind, too, that there are several types of therapy; and what works for someone else may not work for you. Or it may not work for you now, but be precisely what you need in a year or two. CBT, DBT, Mindfulness, Jungian, Solution-focused, EMDR and all others are merely tools that are designed to help people manage their current circumstances. Pharmaceuticals can often help, too, depending on your difficulties, needs, wants, expectations and limitations. But they are only tools, and one size does not fit all. The wrong therapeutic approach, at the wrong time – or the right therapeutic approach at the wrong time – can do more harm than good. And you deserve good. You deserve the best. The first thing you have to do is ask for it, though. Ask for the help you need. You deserve it.
Like your physical health, your mental health is your own responsibility. You can choose to blame other people for everything that’s wrong in your life, but you can also take responsibility by looking for help when you need it. There are people and places you can go for help, but the first thing you need to do is admit that you need it in the first place.
I don’t say this glibly. Looking for help – admitting you need it – can be a scary thing to do. For many of us, seeking help for a mental health issue is difficult. This is due, in part, to the fact that there is such stigma attached to mental ill-health that seeking help can be daunting. But think about it – if you had a broken leg, wouldn’t you take yourself to hospital? If you had a cough that wouldn’t go away, wouldn’t you seek help from a doctor, pharmacist, homeopath or naturopath? It’s the same with your mental health.
If you are in emotional pain, there is no reason to let that pain fester. There are many different types of healers you can approach, depending on your own beliefs and what you feel might work best for you at a given time. The point is that if you are suffering you are not doing anyone any favours – not yourself or anyone around you – by continuing to suffer.
If you are unhappy, you must take responsibility for your unhappiness yourself. Blaming other people for every upsetting or disappointing event in your life does no one any favours – including yourself.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that you can’t hold other people accountable for their actions. Accepting responsibility for your unhappiness also allows you to accept responsibility for your happiness, which is hugely liberating.
For example, I could quite easily blame the people who abused me for my unhappiness. That would just give them power over me. I no longer choose to do that. Instead, I acknowledge that there was huge pain and trauma associated with their actions. I acknowledge that I need to heal from that trauma. I acknowledge that there are some bits of me that will never heal (a bit like an amputee accepting that a severed limb will never re-grow). I also acknowledge that in every moment of every day, I have the power to choose my own happiness.
It took a lot of work, a lot of therapy and a lot of time for me to reach this point. I’m still a work in progress, but I know I can’t do it all on my own – and I don’t expect that of myself any more.