I was on the examination table at my gynecologist’s clinic when he asked me a question that was about to change my life, “Do you often get stressed?”
The ultrasound had shown a new cyst in my ovary, it was the fourth one within an 18-month timeframe. Although this one was still too small to raise alarm, its presence was still worrying.
“I’m wondering whether you internalize too much stress,” he added. With those words, he crystallized the struggle I was going through and trying to hide from the rest of the world.
Yes, I was under too much stress, unlike what my outward appearance was reflecting. At the time, I was happily married, had a stable job I enjoyed, was enrolled in a master’s program, my husband and I had a beautiful home, and we were traveling frequently.
Everything about my life back then was perfect, except for one thing: my relationship with my mom.
Hearing those words made me realize all the stress I was going through was not just in my head. This stress was real, it was happening on a daily basis, and it was caused by the narcissistic behavior of my mother. Until then, I had always believed all of her reactions were just the result of my misbehaviors.
Narcissistic parents are adept at manipulating their children’s thoughts. They wisely blame and shame them, strategically using this method to put their kids back in order. Hearing this every day as I was growing up made this my internal voice, so much so that I had to apologize for everything I had to ask for, down to the smallest things.
“I’m sorry, I’ll need to pour some more water,” is one example of how I used to ask for permission to fill up my glass. I grew up believing I was taking away something from someone, and I learned to shrink within myself to avoid disturbing others.
Words spoken by a narcissistic parent are often a contradiction with the actions they take. “I’m giving you the last piece of cake because I love you so much,” was a common way my mom would subtly try and manipulate me into believing no one else would want the best for me as much as she did. On some occasions, she even mentioned it bluntly, using it as a threat when she believed I was spending too much time away from her.
Love in our relationship was conditional. I didn’t understand this until my 30s when I realized I was anxious to have kids of my own. But I didn’t know what true maternal love was and wasn’t sure how to be a good mother to my own children.
A couple of weeks following the visit to my gynecologist, my parents came over for Christmas. As we were getting ready for our cozy Christmas Eve family dinner, my mom reacted to the color of the shirt my husband was wearing and rushed to his closet to find a red shirt. In her mind, red was more appropriate for the occasion. I quickly followed her and forced her to shut the closet door. She crossed the line and had gone too far, and with a deeper understanding of my circumstances, I wanted to claim my life back.
My mom is the kind of person who would rearrange my entire living room while I’m at work because, in her mind, she believes it looks better. Conversely, returning things to the way they were initially would be a cause for war, and she would blame me for not respecting her hard work and dedication in making my house look better.
She likes to control every aspect of my life.
If I let her have things her way, I would have had lighter, shorter hair, styled just like a Stepford wife. I would only be wearing flowery midi dresses, most likely matching the ones she has in her wardrobe so we could look like twins. She would have met and gotten to know all of my friends, nurtured relationships with them, and probably shared all my private story’s details with them as well.
Appearance is very important to her. She likes to portray herself as the generous, loving mother who would sacrifice everything for her kids, and she makes sure to mention this to every person she comes across. Over time, this strategy has driven me into a deep and silent solitude, and I was unable to express to anyone the real damage happening to me. No one would have understood how it was possible to get so stressed by such a perfect and loving mom.
A couple of months following the incident on Christmas Eve, I got pregnant. By then, I had slowly started to push my anxiety away and the cyst had gone.
When my daughter was born my mom came over as any mom would. The difference being that she was not exactly with me. When I came home from the hospital, my baby was sleeping and I thought I’d take a nap to rest as well. My mom wasn’t at home when I woke up. It turns out she wanted to take advantage of the Black Friday sales and spent the entire day shopping. To make matters worse, when she returned, she showed off all of her new purchases and got upset when I had no interest in them.
She went back to the shops over the next two days and then again when my father came so she could shop for him. She spent an entire week shopping, and by the time she was done, she got sick and ended up spending two nights at the hospital.
As a true narcissist, she had no regrets for being away from me at a time when I needed her most. She did not apologize once but instead asked me to visit her in the hospital with my newborn baby, and she made sure my father was by her side the entire time. Needless to say, when I became pregnant with my second child, I did not consider having her over.
Today, as my daughter turns five, I’m happy to consider the long road I’ve taken. As I observe my kids, I am comforted in seeing their big, bright eyes shining when they smile. They are independent, strong, and healthy little kids who love to socialize. They are my biggest pride and joy.
Getting to this stage required that I go through a lot of mental thought and work to push away all those inner voices that constantly made me feel guilty about every decision I was making.
The most challenging part was ensuring I have some distance by pushing away my mother.
Narcissists don’t like to lose control, and the fight for my independence was not easy.
As unfortunate as this may sound, drawing this line and turning my back on her was the only way for me to regain control of my life. I had to choose between her and myself. From the way my family gets along and communicates in such harmony, I’m more than sure I made the wise decision.