Tell Me About It: I am her scapegoat, while she has a favourite son who is her golden child
PROBLEM: I read an article about someone’s experience with a narcissist in their life, and I recognised myself in it, as I am undergoing the same thing for years.
I have tolerated my mother’s toxic behaviour all my life, but it is getting worse with each moment. I am her scapegoat child, and she has her favourite son, who is her golden child.
No matter what wrong he does she doesn’t mind, and she expects others to be like her. My husband and I do so much to take care of her, going out of our way all the time, and she couldn’t care less about it. There are fight every day because of her ungratefulness and fake behaviour with me. Now she has started telling rubbish stories about me to her friends and colleagues, who I am sure will believe every word of it and think badly of me.
I feel so helpless, in spite of being in the right and in spite of taking care of her so much, even when her own son and daughter-in-law didn’t let her stay in their house.
She never addresses me with affection. In fact she has always showered her negativity and toxicity on me and ruined my life. She manipulates every word of mine and gives it a different emphasis and shows people what she wants to show and not what I meant.
I am so lost and depressed that I just don’t know what to do. I can’t even break off contact with her, because she has no one else to go and live with, nor is there anybody who will let her stay with them even for a day. She too knows this very well, yet she won’t stop that negative treatment of me.
ADVICE: There is seldom a more significant impact on a person than having a difficult and discordant relationship with their mother. This is probably due to the fundamental relationship of mother and child, where we expect the mother to have unconditional, unending love for her child and expect that even if the entire world turns against you, you can rely on your mother until the end. When this turns sour, the resultant suffering can be deep, lifelong and painful and your sense of hurt and betrayal is clear in your letter.
Yet, somewhere in you, you found the capacity to provide your critical mother with shelter and care and this shows that you still wish well for her. It seems that you have found principles and compassion in yourself that did not come from her. It is these qualities that you need to celebrate and draw on in order to survive and grow while living in close proximity with her.
While constant criticism has been part of your upbringing, you say you have also been dealing with being compared unfavourably to your brother and that you have a feeling of a high level of injustice in her support for him, even when he is in the wrong. Justice and fairness tend to be core principles of our society and we are finely tuned to when these are not adhered to and it is almost impossible not to react.
However, in your current situation, you are endlessly suffering your mother’s incapacities and your brother’s favoured position – that is, every time they show their negativity or toxicity, you suffer even more. This would be okay if it was having any effect on their behaviour, but clearly it is not; the main effect its that your anguish and misery are growing to an unacceptable level.
Hard as this is, you need to start by accepting your mother as she is. This is not to say you support her behaviour or attitude in any way, but by not accepting her you are constantly disappointed, hurt and outraged. If you could manage to accept her, you might find that you are able to be unsurprised and calm about her actions and you may develop the capacity to set boundaries. For example, when your mother behaves badly, you might withdraw attention (anger is huge attention) and find that you are able to respond with judgement and clarity.
This may mean that you set a bottom line, that if it is reached, she will need to leave your house and it is not up to you to negotiate with your brother to care for her – that is her responsibility.
Of course, none of this is easy and the damage that has been levelled at you for years can be traumatising and immobilising. If you have never sought counselling for this issue before, now might be the time while you have the motivation and energy for change.
You might try seeing a family therapist (familytherapyireland.com) as this will open the possibility of both individual and family sessions. That compassion you seem to have for your mother could be harnessed into offering her a voice in discussion of her future and you will have someone else to manage the discussion, thus allowing you to be fully in the daughter role.
Put energy into the person you are, into developing your own principles and characteristics and take your mother down from the powerful, critical role she currently has in your life. She only has this influence if you allow it, so focus instead on what will allow you to flourish.