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Mixed Emotions on Mother’s Day

Self-care for adult children of narcissistic parents.

Vlue/Shutterstock
Source: Vlue/Shutterstock

Mother’s Day is this country’s most widely observed holiday, celebrating an unassailable institution. A mother is commonly envisioned as giving herself entirely to her children. Our culture still expects mothers to tend to their families unconditionally and lovingly and maintain an enduring emotional presence in their lives available and reliable no matter what.

Even though this idealized expectation is impossible for most mothers to meet, it places them on a heroic pedestal that discourages criticism. Therefore, it is psychologically wrenching for any child—or adult child—to examine and discuss their mother frankly. It is challenging if the mother does not conform to the saintly maternal archetype. Attributing any negative characteristics to Mom can unsettle our internalized cultural standards. So good boys and girls are taught to deny or ignore negative feelings and conform to society’s and their family’s expectations. They’re certainly discouraged from admitting to negative feelings about their mothers.

Some mothers are incapable of loving unconditionally

The reality is that some mothers are incapable of loving unconditionally and with empathy. Whether this love is withheld wittingly or because of a parent’s emotional issues or disorders, it still has a harmful and long-lasting effect on the child. The impact of being raised by a narcissistic parent can be disabling and require treatment and recovery. The wound is deep and can be crippling.

So, if a narcissistic parent raised you, whether it was a mother or father, what do you do on a holiday like Mother’s Day? Do you search the Hallmark aisles looking for the appropriate card but end up frustrated? Do you become triggered on Mother’s Day because it brings back so many sad memories and reminds you of your loss—the loss of the mother you didn’t have and always wanted? Do you watch Mother’s Day commercials and wonder what it would have been like to have had a loving, comforting, and emotionally tuned-in mother? Do you wish you could feel the grateful thoughts about your parent that your friends and colleagues do? Such reactions can create guilt, confusion, sadness, and sometimes anger.

It's normal to react to an abnormal situation

This scenario is not necessarily because you don’t love your parents. Most children do love their parents and need them and depend on them for their survival. But if you had a parent who could not parent properly or love unconditionally, you are likely reacting in a normal way to an abnormal situation while always wishing it could be different. You are reacting to trauma.

Mother’s Day can be a sad day for adult children of narcissistic parents. The sadness is not because you are “too sensitive,” or “just can’t get over it already"; it’s real. Feelings don’t have brains. We feel what we feel. But there is an answer, and the answer is to embrace recovery. We can overcome a damaging upbringing by focusing on our own internal healing. It is not about confronting or blaming the parent; it’s about taking responsibility for your well-being.

Practice self-care

On this holiday when mothers are universally celebrated, you can celebrate yourself and work on your feelings. Rather than feel the shame or guilt that most adult children of narcissists feel on Mother’s Day, take the day to acknowledge your feelings and take good care of yourself. Do something special for yourself or your children. Decide to begin recovery work if you haven’t already. Find a therapist who deeply understands the dynamics of narcissism and its damaging effects, and dig in. Perhaps this Mother’s Day can be the beginning of a journey of self-love, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. It may be the road less traveled, but it is the road to freedom. I will end with a quote that touched me profoundly:

“We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us.” —Jean-Paul Sartre

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