I am a shell of a person because of my NPD mother. Now what?
April 26, 2015 2:05 AM   Subscribe

I'm an "adult child of a narcissist" and have yet to move past most the damage done. I've been anxious, very shy, paranoid, with low self esteem and zero self worth my entire life. I've always felt inherently bad and worse than. I am an underachiever. I feel like an unaccomplished child/loser at life. I'm a shell of a person.

I've maintained extremely limited contact with her for the past five years, even before I knew about NPD, so she's not terrorizing me anymore. It's just the damage already done that's terrorizing me now. There are a lot of things I missed out, fucked up, or held back on. I've gone to having no friends at all for the past few years, although this isn't the first time I've had no friends at all. I don't socialize like normal people because, after all, I suck at life.

I'm still at much at square one. It's always like one step forward, two steps back. I hate life. I hate my life. I hate other people for being happy because I can't be. I can't stop feeling bad. I have nothing to look forward to each day.

Therapy is out of the question because I can't afford it although I think I could benefit from it and know that's the #1 answer. Although I probably wouldn't go anyways, to be honest. I don't want to confront my mother because it will be 100% a futile endeavor. What can I do by myself? What steps can I take to move past my upbringing? What actually works? I preferrably want advice from people who have been here.
posted by atinna to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry you're going through this. Look, you say you know you need therapy but can't afford it. That is your internal mother sabotaging your efforts to take better care of yourself. You can google your local county to see if there is any kind of income- based community mental health program or even free support groups for adult children of NPD parents or similar things. Finally, I'm in therapy and there's always a lot of talk about my parents. I do not have to confront them or talk to them about anything. My therapist even discouraged it - this is about healing me, not fixing them or holding them accountable. (Which is also impossible- as they say, closure comes from within.) Don't let your conditioning that you don't deserve to be well stand in your way of finding a solution. There are ways to affordable therapy and I bet that if you post a location, MeFis could get specific with some resources.
posted by mibo at 2:32 AM on April 26, 2015 [14 favorites]

I'm still at much at square one. It's always like one step forward, two steps back. I hate life. I hate my life. I hate other people for being happy because I can't be. I can't stop feeling bad. I have nothing to look forward to each day.

This does not sound entirely like the result of a childhood with a mentally-ill parent. This sounds like mostly plain old straight-up depression with parent issues sprinkled on top. The fact that some things in your life have really been messed up doesn't mean you won't benefit from medication, in other words.

If you're still uninsured and can't possibly get insurance (i.e., low-income in a state without Medicaid expansion) then you might look back through AskMe for depression advice. The usual non-therapy/meds stuff: The Feeling Good book, eat better, exercise regularly, get better sleep. Definitely look for local clinics if you can't afford services from elsewhere. My only caveat for support groups or forums or whatever: take advice with a grain of salt if it comes from other people who are still profoundly unhappy/dysfunctional. If you're presently unhappy and dysfunctional, they'll probably sound more right, but my internal compass is, like... if this is a useful way to heal, then why doesn't it seem to be working? It's harder to deal with people who're happier than you are right now, but they'll be the ones to learn from.

I'm still not wholly at peace with what happened with my unwell parent (who has since passed), but those feelings haven't been a significant part of my everyday life since I got on meds for my own problems. It's not magically better, it just doesn't rule my life.
posted by Sequence at 3:05 AM on April 26, 2015 [7 favorites]

Like Sequence, I came to recommend The Feeling Good books by David Burns (the handbook is worth purchasing in addition to the original book) if you're not in a place to get therapy for yourself right now. These books are truly useful for helping you see the ways you can change your thought patterns so you can start to feel better. A lot of the statements in your question fit under "black and white" thinking (everyone else is always happy and I can never be happy, I'll never feel better, etc.). This way of thinking is quite familiar to me, and these books will help you reshape your thoughts. Good luck!
posted by katie at 3:20 AM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Two books to get you started:

The children of the self absorbed

I hate you, don't leave me

It's good that you cut off contact, but it's not an instant cure, this will take time - so give it time - but also if you see things you don't like about your life, try pushing towards making those things better. Also re: other people being happy, you don't know what is going on behind closed doors - people have a lot of depth and sorrow that you'll never know about, because we are all human.
posted by Toddles at 4:58 AM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Therapy would be good, obviously. But try a few things to symbolically recondition your self image.
Write 'I am worthy' on a bit of paper twenty times, every day for a week.
Put up a sign somewhere in your house that says 'I am enough, just as I am' and read it aloud when you walk by it.
Draw a love heart on your mirror that encircles your face when you look into it.
Wear good underwear and wash in lovely soap.
Pinch your wrist when your mother's voice tells you a bad thing, then rub the spot you pinched and say to yourself 'I'm a good kid.'
Put a flower in a glass next to your computer.
Say 'I'm a story that's still being written' and write yourself a good story.
List the tiny, beautiful things you remember from your childhood. The NPD child is a sensitive, wired creature - there was beauty in small places, and you can bring them to mind when you choose. Even now, when you're miserable.
Put your arms around yourself and hug deeply at least once a day.
Say 'I did the best with what I had. I knew as much as I knew' when you recall a 'mistake'
Get into your body in a mindful way every single day. A walk, a cycle, a few sets with a bar bell. Weightlifting makes you strong and shows you progress and change. Lift heavy things and marvel at your growing strength.
Say 'no' when you want to say no. Say what you mean.
Identify your emotions at least once a day. 'I feel abandoned' 'I feel relieved' 'I feel sad' and get faster at dividing up the Black into real words. Console or celebrate yourself as appropriate.
Say 'yes' to new opportunities even if your cynical side thinks it's going to be lame. Eg weightlifting.
When the seasons change, walk about in them and notice everything.

In short, get into a relationship with yourself. I think this has been the core benefit of therapy for me.
posted by honey-barbara at 6:13 AM on April 26, 2015 [14 favorites]

A couple ideas:

1) Develop a hobby - Consider what you are interested in (e.g. what are your favorite posts here), and maybe start a tumblr dedicated to that interest. My latest hobby has been working on the MeFi wiki, and running around AskMe telling people to get a lawyer - having something that is interesting to do has been a lot of fun for me, and it's a bit of a rebellion against an NPD economy that insists that kind of work has little value. I refuse to accept that, so it's been meaningful and fun for me to explore MetaFilter and try to develop an accessible online resource about free and low-cost legal resources. If you can find a creative outlet to do for it's own sake, it might cheer you up.

2) Continuing education - Another thing I tend to talk about on MetaFilter is a free online training I completed through the SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR) program. It helped me produce a nice writing sample that has been helpful in my search for full-time work, and I tend to mention the training and a recent webinar in job applications as a way to show my interest in the work I'm applying for. Depending on what your interests are, there may be free online trainings or other forms of self-study that you can do to help improve your job prospects. I tend to keep my research blogs private, but figuring out how to run a blog and basic html can also be a nice way to develop skills for the new economy.

3) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - My understanding is that CBT [Mayo Clinic] is typically short-term (around six weeks) and it can be helpful for processing experiences like NPD parents. Depending on where you are, there may be free counseling resources, and it may be easier to engage with a therapist when it is clearly defined as a short-term, skill-building kind of process. NAMI may be able to help you find free counseling resources. Sometimes it's just nice to have a trained professional validate your experience, but it's not necessarily going to work for everyone. It sounds like you have already made significant progress by naming your experience and taking steps to protect yourself, which is awesome.
posted by Little Dawn at 6:38 AM on April 26, 2015

Therapy is out of the question because I can't afford it

As funded and regulated by the US Federal Government, every region in the USA has a community mental health center that will provide therapy and psychiatric services to anyone, regardless of ability to pay. They offer a sliding fee scale (as low as $3 per visit) to help the uninsured.

Please, if you need help, use this link to find your local provider.
posted by magstheaxe at 7:05 AM on April 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've shared this here before: http://www.reddit.com/r/raisedbynarcissists

You will get support there and see that other people have been through the same. It's no therapy, but it's therapeutic and free and will surely help you feel a bit better about yourself.

Hang in there. It's not your fault.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 7:07 AM on April 26, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I've been there.
Try to focus more on what you can do today to help yourself. When you have regret and anger over the past, allow yourself to have the thought and the emotion, and then remind yourself that it IS THE PAST, and TODAY you can begin to change things.

You are depressed and anxious. Put aside how you got there. So yes, CBT. Here's a good online guide to identifying and addressing negative thought patterns: Cognitive Therapy Guide.

Practice self-care, raise yourself right! Encourage yourself to do the things you know will be good for you - exercise (preferably in the outdoors), sleeping right, eating regularly and not too much junk.

Mindful self-compassion can help with feelings of low self-worth and disconnection. I recommend getting Germer's book, too, but the exercises without the book might be useful. This can help quiet the negative clamor in your head.

You know therapy is really the best way to handle this, so don't give up on finding something. I found therapy - helpful, life-changing therapy I am still feeling the benefits of, years later - through a university's psychiatry training program. I had to commit to a year, and paid $10/visit. If you live near a school of psychiatry or psychology, check with them. Check with your local community health clinic, too. They may be able to refer you to someone.

Lastly, this quote from Robertson Davies is (perversely?) comforting to me:
Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.

Stop struggling against unhappiness, start looking for treasure. It's in there (and out there)!
posted by hiker U. at 7:11 AM on April 26, 2015

Best answer: First of all, I am so so sorry that you were raised in this way. I was too, and have been on a personal development journey for a few years now, and only now being able to accept that my life is worth anything or that I deserve to live a life of happiness.
Before I helped myself, I would literally lay in bed for hours a day, praying to die so I wouldn't be a burden on anyone with my problems or feelings. This is true. I was still able to function by going to work, but I would get so anxious about messing up or getting in trouble that I would vomit before I left the house every morning.
Reading a book or going to a program was way out of my mental realm. I couldn't be faced with my own reality. (I did go to therapy for "something unrelated" [which of course ended up being directly related])
I found self care is really huge. I basically had to find my own way of being satisfied in parenting myself, as opposed to looking for parental relationships externally, which is pretty textbook for children of parents with NPD.

I started to do things for myself that I thought were huge extravagancies, but were pretty normal from a "well-adjusted person" standpoint.
Taking a hot shower, then putting on coconut oil made me very present of my body, and made me feel like a queen after a childhood of not being bathed, then being chastised by my mother for being stinky and dirty.
Getting my nails done and my eyebrows waxed. $20 and I felt like the fanciest lady on the block.
I started to exercise (first in my house, then at the gym), and ended up losing a big portion of weight.
Small "fuck you's" to my mom and dad really made a difference and made me feel like a badass, like cooking myself a good meal and leaving the dishes in the sink for a day or two (gasp!)

What also really, really helped was this podcast called Mental Illness Happy Hour. http://mentalpod.com/Co-Narcissism-by-Dr-Alan-Rappoport-podcast This episode is about Narcissistic parents, and was the first one I listened to. It helped me talk about understand the horror that I lived through.

Narcissistic parents present you with damaging behavior, and then tell you it's normal. This is so, so dangerous. Visualize yourself holding Little Atinna. When I was finally able to give love to Little Kestrel, I was able to give love to Big Kestrel.

Big hugs and love to you, both Big and Little Atinna.


Big and Little Kestrel
posted by Kestrelxo at 7:11 AM on April 26, 2015 [9 favorites]

Worth a listen (transcript)
posted by flabdablet at 7:58 AM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am sorry, my dear.

Do Yoga With Me is free, can be done alone and at your convenience, and is a good way to ease into caring for yourself. Let me know if you need a mat. If you're in the States I can send you one.
posted by cyndigo at 11:14 AM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

As funded and regulated by the US Federal Government, every region in the USA has a community mental health center that will provide therapy and psychiatric services to anyone, regardless of ability to pay.

Just so that you're not spinning your wheels and feeling worse for not being able to find such treatment, I think the availability of that level of care greatly depends on the severity of your mental-health diagnosis and functional impairments. You should be able to Google your city or county name and "mental health crisis line" then look for the .gov URLs to find contact info for the city- or county-level services (which are the agencies administering the federally funded programs); oftentimes you can call that number for referrals to low-cost community agencies, even if you don't meet criteria for the government programs.

That's, of course, assuming you want that type of care.
posted by jaguar at 12:46 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's not magically better, it just doesn't rule my life.

Therein lies the key: The part of your life that's past now will always be in your past - you'll never be completely rid of it. You need therapy AND medication, like so many of us do, in order to be able to focus on something other than your past so it cannot rule your life.

Seriously and sincerely and absolutely you must get help for yourself NOW so the rest of your life can be free from your experiences with your mother. You need to be blundering your way through life on your own abilities - you have more skills and abilities than you know - rather than trying to live up to your mother's ideals, which I can guarantee you'll never manage because it's impossible to meet the expectations of someone who toys with you for her own entertainment.

I'm sorry this sounds very harsh but what I want it to do is to push you into getting some serious counseling - no woo-woo, just someone who can counter every self-criticism you have, one at a time, until you give up and have to admit that you're okay after all. Because you are okay or you could never have expressed yourself so well and you wouldn't be looking for help.

Please don't waste any more time doubting yourself - get a move on!
posted by aryma at 1:59 AM on April 27, 2015

Many, many therapists offer extremely low cost or free sessions for deserving patients- and you fully qualify there. Call them all up, if you can, and talk to them about it. There may be a waiting list, but get yourself on it. I do ask you to take this on faith- it will be worth it. Because I believe it.

Your mother programmed you to be dysfunctional. Why doesn't really matter. But she left you with some scars, some weak points, and a lot of her crap in your head.

Make a list of all the ways your mother hurt you, what it is costing you, how it is hurting you to this day... get it ALL down. Look it over, think about it for a while.... and burn it. Declare to yourself, out loud! that you are no longer this person. Then, every time your moms programming crap comes up, you can identify it, know it for the crap it is, and refute it. You are NOT broken, you are NOT worthless, you are NOT hopeless, you are NOT unlovable. You DO deserve love, and respect, and good things. YOU ARE WORTHY OF these things! Repeat your self encouragement as often as needed. If its a million times a day, that is ok. Soon it will be 500,000 times, then 5,000, then once or twice a week.

Also, you have to take care of yourself. Again, she programmed in a bunch of crap about you not being worth it.... she lied. I am sorry she did this. But she lied. And now by asking this question, you have taken a good, big step towards standing up and saying 'I am not the person my mom tried to make me! I am better, and bigger, and stronger than that!"

Every time your mothers voice says you are unworthy of love.... tell yourself she is wrong, and if nothing else, dozens of people on Meta like you and want the best for you. We believe in you. Do your best to internalize as much love for yourself as you can.... because you deserve it.

Forgive yourself your mistakes. Everybody makes them, even people with good childhoods and healthy (ish) parents. Bad programming makes it harder to make sane choices. It will be ok. A struggle, and hard... yeah. That I promise is true. But I also promise that you have enough in you to make it through the pain. We'll always be around if you need more help or support or love.
posted by Jacen at 4:00 PM on April 27, 2015

Best answer: Omg. Read this lady, author of "Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers".

My mom has NPD. I love her so much and I understand the etiology of her disorder (she was the daughter of an orphaned woman who was a draconian disciplinarian), but it has been brutal having her as a mother. At times I thought that she outright hated me. I forget how I found this author, but she had confirmed/validated everything thought and feeling I've had related to my mom since I was little. Another book that has helped is "The Emotionally Absent Mother" by Jasmin Cori. I hope you look both of these up.
posted by a knot unknown at 6:53 PM on November 24, 2015

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