Facing the Reality of a Painful Childhood
Updated: Jun 28
I continue my research into narcissistic mothers and how their daughters are affected emotionally and psychologically by this personality disorder.
As I reflect on my own experience as the adult daughter of a narcissistic mother, my latest reading, along with my own readiness, has unlocked for me the potential to more deeply consider how my mother’s actions towards me were motivated by her own emotional wounds.
I still don’t feel love or forgiveness towards my mother, but my perspective has changed. I feel myself opening up to the possibility of understanding.... and perhaps one day, compassion. Recent dreams have showed me the shift in my subconscious beliefs.
The scope of the tragedy of my lost childhood expands as I understand it is not just my loss, but my mother’s loss, and my grandmother’s loss, and the loss of who knows how many previous generations for whom this emotional trauma has been alive and passed along.
Facing the reality of my childhood, allowing myself to feel all of the difficult emotions associated with that time, and experiencing the long and ongoing process of grieving for what was and what will never be, has been one of the most difficult – and liberating – experiences of my life.
My own emotional freedom resulting from this process, and the possibility that the cycle stops with me, are both a source of great comfort.
Understanding what happened to me as a child, psychologically, has helped me tremendously on my journey towards healing. Below are a few highlights of how the emotional and psychological development of girl children with narcissistic mothers plays out in adulthood. I hope this information might be useful to other adult daughters of narcissistic mothers who have never been able to really understand their own feelings of emptiness, numbness, unworthiness, shame, isolation and self-doubt.
For context, a child can experience “normal” emotional development, including creation of healthy self-esteem, when the mother is capable of “mirroring” the child. Mirroring occurs when the mother acknowledges, takes seriously, and responds directly to, the child’s needs and feelings. In a more general sense, the mother takes responsibility for meeting the emotional needs of the child.
In the case of narcissistic mothers, the mother uses the child to meet her own emotional needs. The child learns to be what the mother needs her to be, and to repress her true self, in order to receive love. This subconscious act creates a “pseudo self,” separate from the child’s “true self.” This identification with the false self is the source of immense suffering throughout life, until the adult woman consciously decides to address the reality of her past and undergo recovery.
Some examples of how the emotional and psychological development of girl children with narcissistic mothers plays out in adulthood include:
deeply rooted beliefs that to act with complete autonomy and independence is “right” and to need help from others is “wrong”
distressing levels of inner conflict when it comes to relationships; the need for connection with and support from others is a natural part of being human, and at the same time, associated subconsciously with danger
adopting the attitude that personal worthiness is tied to external factors (i.e. success, achievements, material possessions, etc.) and to validation from others; there is no sense of being enough in your own right, just as you are
feelings of deeply rooted shame in relation to the “true self” as expressed through authentic needs and genuine emotions
Narcissistic mothers are just one example of how children can be emotionally abandoned by their parents. Emotional neglect, in whatever form it takes, has devastating implications for the well-being of the children who experience it. The good news, though, is that as adults, if we are willing to face the truth (and the pain) of our past, we can break the cycle and learn how to experience life differently.
For more information about daughters of narcissistic mothers click here.
About the Author
Diana Calvo is a psychotherapist and coach who helps people get unstuck and transform their day-to-day experience of work and life. After 20 years successfully climbing the corporate ladder, Diana experienced her own journey of healing and awakening. She discovered her true calling to guide others on their journey out of suffering and into a life of purpose and joy. Diana left the corporate world to start her own coaching business. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her dog Joey and a beautiful view of the mountains. She works with clients across the globe.