The Legacy of Distorted Love

Recognizing, understanding and overcoming the debilitating impact of maternal narcissism

Are You “Recovering” from the Merry! Merry! And the Ho! Ho!

Loneliness revisited in dysfunctional families.

It happens every year. As the holidays approach, therapy sessions turn to discussions about seasonal plans and reconnecting with family of origin. Outside of the office, friends and family begin the planning, hoping, wish lists, worry, and the harried stress of the season. We all know the happens every year. But, what's the one discussion that is still lingering and stirring after the jingle bells stop ringing, the egg nog is gone and we are no longer "rockin' round" the Christmas tree? After the parties, festivities, sacred gatherings, traditions and families reconnecting comes to a halt, then what? Well...after some talk about gifts received and given, stories about the family chaos and who drank the most and acted the worst, and the grateful thoughts and blessings realized, the discussion usually finds it's way back to an interesting juxtaposition. In the midst of the Merry! Merry! And the Ho! Ho! Ho!, the topic most discussed is loneliness.

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In many dysfunctional families, and particularly the narcissistic family, people do not really connect. There is a superficial air of putting on the image of the "great" family and doing all the right things, but emotionally tuning into the members of the family is a lost art. Would you rather receive that beautiful cashmere sweater and ravenously eat those gourmet meals or be in an environment where family members want to know who you really are? Where people ask questions about what you are doing in life and why? Where feelings are discussed and comfort, celebration, and nurturing takes place for each member of the family?

We can all "put on the dog" so to speak. Dress up pretty, present the right gifts, cook the perfect meals, decorate the house and tree, attend the activities of the holidays either religious or otherwise, but is there a focus on the inner workings and uniqueness of each individual? Do you feel there was a celebration of who you are? Did you celebrate you when assessing your last years resolutions and making the new ones for 2012? Or did you experience loneliness?

Loneliness is about not emotionally connecting with self or others. It is about being in environments or families where people do not discuss who you are and therefore you experience that feeling of invisibility. You are seen for what you can do, not for who you are. In narcissistic families, it's about serving the narcissist or following the conscripted mold of what is expected of you. This is why working the therapeutic recovery related to separation-individuation is the greatest holiday coping tool to master. So what's separation-individuation? It's a New Year's resolution to learn about and work on so the next holiday season is a different scenario for you.

Psychological literature explains separation-individuation as defining a sense of self and as differentiation. Every person has to undertake individuation from his or her family of origin to grow up fully. Psychological separation is an internal process and has nothing to do with geographically separating from your family of origin. It is coming home to the authentic you, building your own solid sense of self and finding your own internal parent who nurtures and comforts you. Then it matters less what is happening around you. You become less reactive, more objective in observing family dynamics, and more aware of the distortions in the "image" of the family you grew up in.

When you work on this, and are in tune with yourself, you become even more aware of emotionally tuning into others and this is what "cures" loneliness. Does it still bother you that your family does not seem to "get" you, or that they don't ask about you and your feelings? Yes, of course it does. But you then know you can find other people who can do empathy; nurturing, understanding and you believe you can seek that out.

Because individuation in children is stunted in narcissistic families, this is a necessary part of the recovery for adult children from these families. It is learning to be a part of and apart from at the same time while keeping your whole sense of self. To read more about this see Chapter Eleven in Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.

If you found loneliness in the holiday season and felt "invisible" to your own family, start your internal recovery work now. It won't change them, but you will find your peace within yourself. It will ultimately cause you to also seek the strength of others who have the "get you factor" and who want to celebrate you in all the glory you were created to be as you share the same for them. This is where true joy rings in the New Year! And even the Merry! Merry! And the Ho! Ho! Ho! begin to reflect a different meaning.

Additional Resources for Recovery:

Resource Website:

Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Audio Book:

Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Work recovery in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments:



Daughter Intensives: One on one sessions with Dr. Karyl McBride

“Is this your Mom?” Take the survey:

Karyl McBride, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.


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