I feel awful. I am trying to think why. I’ve tried sitting with it – that does help, but it all comes back again.

It seems to relate to what we talked about in therapy. The last two sessions, we were talking more about my family (FOO). For all the therapy I’ve had, I haven’t often talked about them. The SA was from an uncle, after all. Then my life tended to be crap, so I’d talk about that. So though you’d think I’d have discussed the old family a lot by this point, that’s not the case.

I’d been reading a book called The Narcissistic Family. According to this book, a family is narcissistic not so much when the parents are narcissists, but when the family exists to take care of the needs of the parents, not the needs of the children. Families can look very good on the outside, with activities for the kids, home cooked meals, no addictions or overt abuse, vacations….all this can be happening, yet it is narcissistic, and the children from such homes don’t do well in later life.

My family was like that, and I felt quite bad complaining about them, because they obviously tried hard. I realize a lot of work went into it.

When I was reading the book, I realized that I wasn’t that aware that the family should be there for the needs of the children. That is a bit of a new concept for me. I mean, I guess I realized intellectually that yes, children are most needy. But in my family, certainly, I felt it was up to me to be good and to please my parents in all ways. If I felt sad, or angry, I was taught to keep that to myself from a very early age, because my parents would be upset if I expressed that.

Ron pointed out that actually, the children have needs, but mostly the parents have wants. My parents for instance didn’t actually ‘need’ me to be perfect in school – they wanted that, as it reflected well on them. They didn’t need for me not to cry ever – that was simply more convenient and more comfortable for them.

The problem for the child is when they must suppress their feelings and wants and perceptions, the child loses touch with who they really are. And other bad things happen to them.

For me, in therapy, I don’t seem to stay with this type of discussion. What happens is I turn into that child again, who is desperately sad, and wants to tell Ron about it.

We also talked a bit about my mother. I’ve always felt detached from my mother. She’s a very reserved person. I was not a favorite with her as a child – we are perhaps too different, and she would have found my emotionality threatening. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to try to talk with her about any problems I had – at least, not once I was over the age of maybe eight.

We’ve never exactly fought either. We didn’t have enough closeness to fight I think. Anyway, she came by the other day to drop off a birthday card. It was fine talking to her. I have rarely experienced sitting down with my mother to chat – when I visit her house, she is too busy, and she rarely visits me.

Ron wants to know what the feeling was between us, when she gave me the card. I think, and don’t know what he means really. I didn’t feel anything. Did we hug? Yes, when she left. A formal kind of a hug.

I found discussing my mother disturbing. Not a fun time at all.

  1. Casey said:


    I have to disagree with Ron. Parents have needs as well. We don’t stop having needs when we grow up and have children. That’s ridiculous. Marshall Rosenberg has an extensive collection of books on the topic of how adults get their needs met, how they can ASK to have them met, AND negotiate to get them met, or meet their needs themselves. We have to be careful with our children, but giving up our needs FOR our children is as bad as becoming a martyr and NEVER getting our needs met.

    I had a narcissistic mother. And two alcoholic fathers. I think the alcoholism was never as bad as my mother’s narcissism was.

    I wanted to share a blog post of mine

    you’ll see an excerpt from a book called Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists and their Struggle for Self.

    I have to go get my daughter from school…but I wanted to say thank you for commenting on my blog post.

    Another book I like is The Emotionally Absent Mother: A Guide to Self-Healing and Getting the Love You Missed.

    I wrote a post about it, too. You might like reading that book.

    Anyway…I do understand what its like a little bit.


    • Ellen said:

      Hi Casey – Yes, or course parents have needs as well. The thing is, for the most part, they shouldn’t require their children to meet those needs. Admiration, approval, acceptance could better come from a partner or other significant person. I’m a parent as well, and I do realize parents have needs. In fact, I think I really screwed up as a parent, not because I wanted to or didn’t care, but just because of a difficult background and difficult spouse. Not an excuse, just what happened to me.

      I am sorry you had such difficult parents. Mine were not difficult in that overt way. That was part of the interest of this book to me, as it explained how an outwardly reasonable and stable family can be damaging. My mother is definitely not a narcissist, and is maybe the opposite of borderline. Sometimes it’s hard to complain. But we never had a connection where I felt cared about and nurtured, that is the bottom line.

      I’ll look into those books and posts, thank you. I have read NVC, so hopefully it’s a good start.

      I think what I’m trying to do is mourn some of this stuff emotionally, feel it so I can hopefully let it go eventually. Not that I have a choice at the moment.

      Thanks for commenting. take care.

  2. OneDM said:

    A lot of what you write in this post resonates with me as well. I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on Childhood Emotional Neglect as well as narcissistic parents. Like you, as a kid I had everything I could possibly need on the surface – but there was an emotional hole that I didn’t know was there until I have reached the ripe old age of 40-something. πŸ™‚ I’ve started to read “The Emotionally Absent Mother” that Casey mentions above. I also have been reading “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?” about daughters with narcissistic mothers.

    It is SO powerful when kids get the messages that their feelings are invalid, or inappropriate, or unnecessary. The long-term effects of it in life are so far-reaching. I hope that you can start to understand more about your feelings and how your upbringing played a role. I’ll be doing the same! πŸ™‚

    • Ellen said:

      Hi DM – Lovely to meet you. We do seem to be on a similar path, and that book sounds good. I guess I always knew things were not good with me but haven’t really looked much at my FOO. I’m glad you’re getting a handle on some of these issues while your kids are still small and can benefit from your personal growth. I can recommend a book to you also, which I just finished, called Parenting from the Inside Out, by Dan Segal and someone else. It is for parents, but I found it wonderful for anyone, because it so clearly explains attachment – how we pass down our own experience of attachment to our children, unless we become aware and process it. I’d never understood attachment so clearly before. Great book, if you haven’t read it. I wish I’d read it when my son was young.

      I think I suffered more from childhood emotional neglect than from narcissistic parents. I’ll look for the Emotionally Absent Mother.

      Thanks a lot for the comment.

  3. OneDM said:

    Ellen – Nice to meet you too! I think I read Parenting from the Inside Out a loooonnng time ago, when I didn’t have the understanding and the context for it now. I will check it out again and read it with my childhood experience in mind. It’s hard to figure all of this out in my head, and heal my own emotional wounds – while also trying to figure out how to do it differently with my kids. How do I give them when I never got in the first place? And that leads to the days when I feel paralyzed by all of this analysis!

    I haven’t gotten all the way through the Emotionally Absent Mother but I’m especially motivated to now that I’ve seen Casey’s comment above about the 10 Basic Good Mother Messages. That sounds like a great thing to have posted somewhere for me to reference throughout my day!

    I definitely suffered more from childhood emotional neglect. The narcissistic mother piece is part of it for me, in that my behavior was – and still is! – a direct reflection on my mother. If I make choices that she approves of, then all is well; if not, she withholds whatever emotional connection we do have. Not fun.

    If you’re looking to read more about childhood emotional neglect, check out Running on Empty, by Webb. So many of the examples there match with my childhood examples…and so many of the resulting effects in adulthood match the stuff I’m trying to work through now.

    Happy reading! πŸ™‚

    • Ellen said:

      I can relate to trying to do it better with my kid, but not knowing how. Or when I kind of knew how, I couldn’t apply it.

      I guess my mother does that as well – withholds connection if she doesn’t approve. Because my mother is ‘nice’, ie, she doesn’t yell or get overtly angry, it’s hard sometimes to see how she tries to control. Sorry you went through that also.

      I will check out Running on Empty, thanks. Thanks for the comment.

  4. weareonebyruth said:

    I didn’t start out talking about my parents in counseling. Took me quite a while but once I started to talk my counselor kept pointing out how my parents expected me to meet their needs without them meeting mine. Yes, I had a roof over my head and food to eat (home-cooked meals and all). But the bottom line was I was expected to take care of my mother…it was supposed to be the other way around. I don’t go in for the martyr concept but there is such thing as the parents wanting to be comfortable at the sacrifice of their child’s emotional needs. When I finally started talking, I spent almost 2 years just talking about my mother and trying to wrap my mind about how our roles were reversed….she behaved like the child and I was expected to take care of her. Not healthy for either one of us. I still have to be careful not to fall back into the role of caregiver to my parent when she is capable of taking care of herself. Not an easy journey but for me it was liberating to see that my parents treated me like a 3rd class citizen. I learned that I deserve to be treated better than I was as a child. Hugs, Ruth

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks for sharing your story Ruth. I think your mother was ‘worse’ than mine. Mine is not narcissistic. However, we never had much connection, and that was damaging. I think a strong connection to your mother can help prevent abuse, actually. I too was treated like a third class citizen – maybe not even a citizen, lol. Hugs to you.

  5. candycanandco said:

    This post has similar themes to my most recent post. I am also just realising that my life shouldn’t have been about my parents and I also had to hide any negative emotions. A great basis for dissociation.

    • Ellen said:

      It is an ideal basis for dissociation isn’t it. You have to hide your real feelings in order to get what little acceptance there was. I’ll have to check out your blog if you’ve started posting again. Thank you for the comment.

      • candycanandco said:

        Well I have done a few posts in the past month or so. I never saw it as that I’d stopped, just that I wasn’t doing it, so likewise I don’t feel I’ve restarted blogging but I hope to do more at the moment. That probably makes no sense! I think I’m just never sure what’s happening with my blog but I hope there will be more. It feels good to be reading your posts again too.

  6. cardamone5 said:

    Thank you for following my blog. We are a lot alike in our upbringings, I think, at least from what I read in this post. I too had a narcissistic father who raised me and a very detached relationship with my mother, about whom I found it hard to discuss my feelings in therapy. There is that vacantness that comes to mind when we are asked about our feelings, right? Feelings? What feelings? I stopped therapy (though I am not advocating this for you) because I found I was telling them what they wanted to hear versus the truth, which was that I didn’t know and was unable/unwilling to dig deep to find out. It is only through self-discovery, by writing my life story, that I was able to process feelings and figure out how I was wronged. I am not the type of person that can do this with a trained professional. It has to be in a privacy of my own mind and writing that the healing began, but there were times when I wished for professional opinions on my conclusions. I am now following you too.

    Best regards,

    • Ellen said:

      Yes, I never knew about feelings until late in life also. I’m glad I don’t have that difficulty with therapy at least – I says what I think. Then feel guilty after. Oh well. I find it interesting how different people find different things work for them in their healing – there are many paths. Thanks for the comment Elizabeth

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