Family Secrets

All About My Mother

Why I had to cut my narcissistic mom out of my life, and set myself free

Photograph by Getty Images

I've reached a crossroads in my life, and have chosen a difficult, but necessary path. After a lifetime of emotional manipulation and abuse, I've decided to completely cut my mother out of my life.

Why it took me close to 50 years to reach this point is a loaded question and too complicated to tackle here. But I had an epiphany recently: I believe she has narcissistic personality disorder.

Suddenly, my entire life made sense.

The games. The manipulation. The pressure. The expectation that I'd always do exactly what she wanted when she wanted, and the harsh repercussions when I failed to comply. The complete lack of boundaries. The constant, insatiable need for affirmation and attention. The way she turned every single conversation into being about her.

Any of my successes were hers, and my failures and shortcomings cut her to the bone. She took them in as personal slights, as if I were trying to shame her. And she'd quickly let me know how disgusted she was with me.

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My mother had a desire, above all things, to have her life appear perfect to those on the outside looking in. Nothing mattered more than what people thought about her and, as an extension of her, our family. The illusion she created was a Norman Rockwell-esque existence.

The reality, however, was that I had a sibling who was bipolar and had a drug problem. My mother hated my brother for putting cracks in her façade, and looked to me to make up for it. Because of his issues, she expected me to be perfect. To project the image she had already sold to the world.

And to further maintain the illusion, she insisted our family issues be kept under wraps. "We don't make private problems public," she'd often say.

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The burden of keeping our terrible secret proved too much for me to bear, particularly when I was a child, and led to a breakdown when I was a teenager. My father insisted I go to therapy, and my mother had no choice but to agree. The secret was finally out, but it wasn't really much of a relief. Privately, my mother constantly berated me.

"Are you proud of yourself, you little bitch? You certainly managed to get plenty of attention, didn't you? What do you talk about with that therapist of yours?" she'd yell at me. "Do you tell him what a horrible mother I am? Do you enjoy making me look bad? You're pathetic. You make me sick."

One time she became so enraged, I thought she might hit me. My father stepped between us and screamed, "ENOUGH!"

My mother was extremely jealous of my relationship with my father. Our closeness was threatening to her. We were like two peas in a pod, and she was the outsider. And that made her furious.

In her mind, it was the kind of rejection she had received all her life. My mother never received unconditional love as a child, and the insecurity and pain of those years carried over into her adult life. Her biggest fear was becoming like her own mother, who was also a narcissist. My mother incessantly told me about the emotional pain that had been inflicted upon her when she was a kid, yet she couldn't help herself from continuing the cycle of pain.

After my father died, my mother doubled down on me as her primary source of "narcissistic supply." I felt as if I were suffocating. It was absolute hell, and I was desperate to stop it. But what kind of daughter cuts off contact with her own mother? Perhaps the better question to ask would've been, what kind of mother treats her child the way mine treated me?

The beginning of the end was when my mother began to play her sick games with my young child. The pattern, as plain as day, was beginning again. She made her 6-year-old granddaughter jump through hoops to demonstrate an appropriate level of adoration, and if it wasn't enough, she cut her right off.

Then one day, my mother snapped on my daughter, screaming and cursing and throwing things. It was chilling and shocking; as if I were truly seeing her for the first time. In that moment, I realized in order to protect my child—and myself—from my mother's erratic behavior, I had to cut her out of our lives. And that's what I did.

There is some sadness, but mostly there's an overwhelming sense of relief. I'm no longer living under a cloud of dread and fear. I never fully realized how heavy it was until now. I've been set free and it feels amazing.

Most importantly, my child can grow up without the anxiety, misery and pain I suffered and what my mother would've assuredly inflicted on her. In the end, it took being a mother myself to recognize who mine truly is.

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