Today is Mother’s Day, a day many of us dread. It is a day in which we are reminded, at every turn, of what we have never had: a loving mother. And for many of us, the constant reminders on TV and radio, advertisements on line, specials in the shops, signs in windows and questions from friends and co-workers, are just a twist of the knife.
Why do so many of us feel our loss to profoundly around Mother’s Day, especially if our mothers are still alive, most especially if they are still alive and expect what they believe is their due homage from us? Why are so many of us torn between guilt if we don’t acknowledge “her” day and anger at her and ourselves if we do? Just what is this dynamic that causes so many of us so much anxiety?
The absolute bottom line answer is this: expectations. You have had expectations of your mother from earliest childhood and, by and large, she has disappointed you. Whether or not your expectations were legitimate or not is actually immaterial: the only thing that is material is that your NM did not live up to your expectations of her as a mother and she continues to do so. You may not even realize what your expectations of her have been, which means you may not be consciously aware of your disappointment. You feel something is wrong, however, even if you cannot put your finger on it.
Infants are hardwired to have certain expectations of their caretakers and when those expectations are disappointed, the infant cries to alert the caretaker of their needs. The infant expects to be safe, warm, fed, and without pain. As we grow older, our expectations change. We expect that caretaker to shelter us and protect us, to be predictable and to care for us. We expect, when we come to them with a hurt or a fear, to be comforted, reassured, protected. We expect them to care for us, not the other way around. We expect to be treated justly…to not be punished for transgressions we did not commit. We expect consistency and demonstrations of love. As we grow older still, we come to be able to compare our lives with those of our peers and begin to see where our experiences fall short or exceed those of our neighbours and friends. We learn that other children are not parentified or harshly disciplined for minor infractions or ignored when they are hurting or when they have achieved. We learn from observing others, from movies and television and books, what other children’s lives are like and we discover that those “off” feelings we have experienced had a basis in reality: we have been deprived of a healthy emotional environment, the very environment that has been hardwired into us to expect from infancy.
We grow up feeling deprived and exploited…as indeed we are. But often we have no conscious awareness of why we feel this way, especially if we had a modicum of affluence and the entire family seems to support the system as it is. We hear that there is something wrong with us to have different expectations or perceptions, and over time a part of us buys into the notion that it is we who are flawed, not the parenting we received. And cognitive dissonance sets in.
Some of us never break away and stay enmeshed in the narcissist’s web, believing we are bad, wrong, inadequate, flawed, and we live our lives inside that web, dealing with our pain in too many ways to count, none of them healthy. Others of us, spurred by our pain, seek out information, ways to cope, people who can relate to the pain we feel, and we bond with them. Sometimes that bond leads to merely reinforcing our negative self-perceptions, and sometimes that bond leads us to a way to heal.
But nothing changes until we realize that the entire situation is really little more than a house of cards built upon and with our own expectations.
If you were to expect your dog to stand up and sing and dance, you would be disappointed. Indeed, you might even feel foolish for expecting this of a dog. And yet, the same person who acknowledges that expecting a dog to sing and dance is folly and doomed to disappointment will twist in the throes of emotional pain because his narcissist parent does not act like a normal one. And that is what traps so many of us: we continue to hold our expectations unchanged despite irrefutable evidence that they are unreasonable under the circumstances.
Oh, I know…you are going to quibble that expecting the dog to sing and dance is unreasonable but expecting your mother to love you and treat you well is a perfectly reasonable expectation, but that’s not true. It would be true if you expected your emotionally healthy mother to love you and treat you well, but once you know that your mother is personality disordered, what is reasonable for you to expect changes…and you then need to change your expectation.
Rather than expect her to treat you the same way a normal, emotionally stable and rational mother would treat you (and suffer the concomitant disappointment), you need to change your expectations to encompass the real her. Accept her for who and what she is…accept that she is not, nor will she ever be, the kind of mother you want, need, and deserve. Motivations are immaterial—why she won’t is pointless to fret over—simply acknowledge that she has never been an adequate mother, she is not now, nor will she ever be, and stop torturing yourself with expectations that can never, ever, come about.
Once you acknowledge that narcissists have no interest in the feelings of anyone save themselves, that their focus is wholly self-oriented, and they will never, ever, act against their own gain and self-interest, you have the choice to continue expecting the bitch to sing and dance or accept that it is never going to happen and give up the wish, the hope, the expectation that you are going to get the proverbial silk purse out of the sow’s ear that is your narcissist.
Is it sad you didn’t have a real mother? Of course. Is it disappointing that you don’t have one now? Definitely. Is it worth sinking into a depression or even a funk and exuding misery to everyone around you? Absolutely not. By accepting that your NM is what she is, you can give yourself the freedom to walk away from disappointment. Your heart isn’t broken because Fido isn’t a ballet star because you don’t expect that from her…and you can apply exactly the same to the mother who never was one.
Even on Mother’s Day.