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Posts Tagged ‘mothers and daughters’

The Case for Narcissism

Monday, February 14th, 2011

I had a very interesting conversation the other day about narcissism with a good friend of mine. I never really even thought about narcissism before launching this website (I certainly never knew how to spell it before Motherrr.com was born!), but it’s actually become one of the most searched for and visited sections on the whole site. There seems to be a real need by daughters dealing with narcissistic mothers for help and yet there’s very little out there.

My friend made the comment that she wanted to be more “narcissistic.” That really took me by surprise. How could she want to be a narcissist? Everything I have read about it says it’s a very negative thing. Other people don’t like narcissists…they’re self-centered, hurt other people, cause their daughters (and sons and husbands, etc.) great distress. Who would want to be a narcissist?

Ah, but it depends on your viewpoint and definition of narcissism I guess. Hey, face it, to some degree or another, we’re all narcissists. We only walk in our own shoes and see things from our own vantage point. Most people seem to think that the way they do things or see things is the “right” way. After all, I only buy Bumble Bee Tuna, Skippy Peanut Butter and Hellman’s Mayonnaise because that’s what my family always bought. To me it’s a sign of closeness and intimacy to share a meal together because that seemed to be one of the ways that my parents bonded, and, yet, to my boyfriend, it’s “right” to want to have your own meal and not share with anyone.

It does seem that when it comes to being narcissistic, there is a continuum. Many people, while seeing things through their own eyes, can take someone else’s feelings into account and/or can “see” things from the other person’s point of view. That aids in understanding, compromising and just getting along. When you can sympathize with someone else and even empathize, you are on the road to connecting with another human being. This is what most people strive for.

Further down the narcissism road are those people who can’t do that. Who can’t put themselves into another’s shoes; who can’t see things from another’s perspective; who don’t even want to. It’s all about them and them alone. Everyone should care about their feelings, their wants, their needs. But what’s the difference, then, between being self-centered and narcissistic? What’s just being selfish and what’s true narcissism?

To my friend growing up, her family stressed the opposite of narcissism…selflessness. She was taught to always care more about other people’s feelings than her own. That’s the other end of the spectrum and not much healthier. To her thinking about yourself was narcissistic…it was just as negative. She couldn’t really see how it was ok to think about herself without it being “selfish.”

I tried to explain to her the difference as I saw it. First I used the example of being aggressive vs. assertive. Being that I used to work in sales I was very well versed in the difference. Everyone knows what an “aggressive” salesperson is like…the typical used-car salesman type (I apologize to anyone who is a used car salesman out there and isn’t this way). They are notoriously aggressive and this has a negative connotation. I, on the other hand, saw myself as an “assertive” salesperson. I was persistent and determined but not pushy. I built relationships with my potential customers and listened to their needs. This was the only kind of salesperson I could possibly be and it worked well for me.

Then we went onto the example of being conceited or arrogant versus being self-confident. Again, being conceited or arrogant is a negative. Who likes to be around someone who acts this way? Often they make themselves feel better by knocking someone else down. Kind of like a bully. On the other hand, someone who is self-confident doesn’t need to knock anyone else…they know they are good, but you can be too. You can be great together!

This is how I see narcissism…it’s the negative end of the spectrum. So, what’s the positive end? I think that’s self-care. You don’t have to be selfish or narcissistic to take care of yourself. You can think of yourself first but not discount other people. You can look out for your own needs without negating anyone else’s. Not only is that ok, but it’s actually even healthy.

My friend’s working on this now…not being a narcissist, but, rather, being her own best friend and cheerleader. Taking care of herself first. And there’s nothing wrong with that…in fact, there’s everything right with it!

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Balancing Act

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Here’s the conundrum I face (and others as well, I’m sure!)…how to balance the everyday annoyances and challenges I face in my relationship with my mom (issues that have really always been there to one degree or another and continue to be) with the knowledge that she is aging and will not always be here.

On the one hand, while our relationship has vastly improved as a result of my work on this website, she and I continue to struggle from time to time with our differences, our history, our conflicts. There are still times we get so angry at each other that we even stop talking for a bit (it used to be for longer stretches…now it’s usually limited to overnight). There are still some occasions when she says things that bring me back to childhood or adolescence and make me see “red” or that hurt me. There are still times I lash out and lose patience and grit my teeth as I let out a long drawn out “Moooommmmm.”

But then there are also times when I stop and realize that she won’t always be here. I dread the inevitable…the day she is no longer here to “drive me crazy” or me her. When I won’t be able to pick up the phone to tell her something funny, ask her advice or just to find out how she is.

This balancing act became increasingly evident this past weekend when we traveled together to a big family event. It was a lot of “quality time” to spend together and we were both stressed from the travel and lack of normal routine. There were occasional bouts of impatience, buttons got pushed, criticisms were thrown…I guess it was all very “normal” really. I annoyed her, she annoyed me, and all was right with the world I suppose.

But then there was also the other side of it. It was nice that my mom at 88 (and a half, as she always says) was able to be there. My niece had two grandmas and a grandpa there to cheer her on at her high school graduation. Another graduate’s 90 year old grandmother sat in front of me at the ceremony and there were many other aging faces in the crowd. That was really nice to see. Three generations of family, love and support.

Then when I got home Laurie and I got to work adding a new article to the Loss of Mom section of the website. Reading through this article got me thinking even more. I do try to keep it in my awareness that my mom is only here for a limited time and I want to appreciate her (most of the time I think I do), but at the same time, the everyday annoyances are still there. I often wonder why can’t she change? Why can’t she do things differently or act a different way? Why can’t she just stop criticizing me already for things that I may or may not have done 30 years ago? But then I feel guilty and wonder why I can’t just accept her as she is? How can a “good daughter” think this way? And if I’m aware that she won’t always be here, then why can’t I just get along with her better on a more consistent day-to-day basis?

I have no answer. Relationships are hard; especially those between mothers and daughters. They just are. But they are also unique and special and, at least in my case, loving. I will just keep trying. I’ll try to be patient, try to find the positive, try to ignore the small stuff and look at the bigger picture. I’ll just try to keep the balance.

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The Ups and Downs of the Mother-Daughter Relationship…A Work in Progress

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Ok, so I thought things were going really well. From all the work I’ve been doing on this website, all the books I’ve been reading, videos I’ve been watching, articles I’ve been searching through, I’ve discovered some new strategies and ways of interacting with my mom that have really been making a difference. It’s been nice. I’ve been feeling more like “friends” than mother and daughter butting heads. I’ve been more patient, she has seemed less critical and we’ve been having a nice time together. Was it unreasonable to think it could stay this way???

I’m not even sure exactly what happened last night, but I guess old buttons got pressed, I was quickly transported back to adolescence and I just lost it. It wasn’t a full blown screaming fight, but it at least warranted a brisk hang up on my mother’s part (although, I might have done the same if she hadn’t done it first). When I was younger I used to have this awful feeling whenever we had a big blow up fight that this was it….we would never speak again and she would no longer be my mother. That feeling translated to other relationships as well…for years I thought that whenever my best friend and I fought it was the end of the relationship. As I became an adult and grew emotionally, I came to see that wasn’t the case. Basic feelings of love and caring don’t go away just because you fight, and things can be worked out. So, I know that my mom and I will speak again and we’ll work out whatever issues reared their ugly heads last night. But how do I handle all my feelings of guilt, remorse, annoyance (more than anger at this point) and how to keep this kind of thing from happening again…if that is even realistic?

When we hung up the phone last night, I was upset and I struggled with what to do next. Call her right back? Call her later? Let things sit overnight? I decided to give it the distance of the evening to let us both cool off.

I guess I can’t beat myself up over this too much. After all, I think this whole thing is really just a process. She and I have had so many years of relating in a certain way. It can’t be changed magically overnight. I feel like we’ve really been making great progress, though, so I guess I should just accept these slip ups. I need to accept that my mom will still say and do some things that will bring me back to my childhood and upset me. I need to accept that I will sometimes say things back and we’ll argue. Both of us will be unreasonable or critical of each other at times. It’s a complicated relationship with lots of history, long ago hurts, many ups and downs. But those downs don’t need to take away from the good stuff. And there is always good stuff.

I read a book about making peace with your mother before it’s too late which was a featured book on this website and which I wrote a blog about. The book includes all kinds of stories of mothers and daughters…one where the mother was a great mother all through the daughter’s childhood but fell apart after the father died, one where the mother was always very critical and distant and even one where the mother was terribly abusive and mean. One of the many things to come out of the book is the fact that in every scenario (and some of the scenarios can really make you appreciate your own situation a lot more) there is always something good to find in the relationship.

And there is a lot of good in my relationship with my mom. I remind myself of that every day. No matter what differences we have between us or fights we get into, I know she loves me. I know she has my best interests at heart and is proud of the person I’ve become. I know it is through her teachings that I have learned to have compassion and empathy toward others. And I know that from her I learned that as long as you wear a smile, it doesn’t matter what else you are wearing!…

You know, I think I’m going to give her a call right now…and tell her I love her.

Note: I was just going to end this blog here, but Laurie has been bugging me for days to “finish it” and tell what happened next. Ok, ok… I did call my mother the next day after our fight and things went very well. We both had had time to calm down and give a little thought to what had happened. She admitted she hadn’t been in the best shape the day before and realized that she must have hit some of my buttons. I admitted she had and I had felt criticized and resorted back to adolescence reactions. We were able to talk it all out, say we loved each other and make plans to get together to go to a movie over the weekend. I found that writing the blog really helped me sort through my feelings and put things into perspective (a hint to others who might find it helpful to write things out as well). So, now this is the end of the blog!  :-)

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Book Discussion: “How to Manage Your Mother: Understanding the Most Difficult, Complicated, and Fascinating Relationship in Your Life” by Alyce Faye Cleese and Brian Bates

Monday, May 10th, 2010

(Book available at the Motherrr.com store)

After reading books with such titles as:

  • When I Married My Mother
  • I Am My Mother’s Daughter: Making Peace With Mom – Before It’s Too Late
  • You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation

…whose titles really intrigued and spoke to me, I was underwhelmed by this book’s title:

  • How to Manage Your Mother: Understanding the Most Difficult, Complicated, and Fascinating Relationship in Your Life.

It seemed more mundane. I almost returned the book to the library unread. But, instead, I renewed it and sat down to read it anyway…I’m really glad I did!

This book had so much interesting and helpful information. I found it fascinating to read. While it didn’t focus solely on the mother-daughter relationship, that didn’t really matter. I discovered that men can have mother issues too!

The main conclusion from the book is that the way to “manage” your mother is really to learn to manage yourself. It’s what we do that is really the most influential in the mother and adult-child relationship. In fact, the authors suggest that we should try to reexamine the fundamental way we think about our mothers and ourselves in order to reevaluate our attitudes toward our past experiences with her. It is then possible to reshape these views and move forward. As they note, “we can’t change our past, but we can change the way we think and feel about it.”

The authors write about how we create an image of our mother in our childhood which becomes fixed in our minds. We then remember everything that happens from then on in the framework of that image. This view of our mother becomes very difficult to change when we become adults. It may not even be an accurate view of her anymore now that we are adults and she, too, has “grown up” over the years. It is helpful to find ways to change our image of her and, ultimately, our interactions.

This book covers many different mother-child scenarios, including some terribly abusive ones. When reading about one such relationship, I felt uncomfortable about it at first. It was so extreme (it seemed more like the story-line of a movie). But I felt differently once I processed the information and compared it to my own much less dramatic circumstances. As the authors comment, “If we look at what happens when a mother-child relationship goes as seriously wrong as this, it puts into perspective the more moderate experiences most of us have had.” In fact, seeing how this grown daughter was able to make amends with her abusive mother, it can give hope for others of us.

The authors point out that loving one’s mother is not an obligation, but, rather, an option. They go on to say that while, of course, most of us would prefer to have a loving relationship with our mother, knowing that it is not a requirement, but actually a choice, can help to ease any guilt one might feel if things are not as they would like them to be.

There are several strategies for helping to improve the mother and adult-child relationship discussed throughout the book. One of the main ones is mentioned again and again in other books on the mother-daughter relationship as well; trying to get to know and understand your mother as a person and not just as your mother. After all, she had a life before she became your mother and had her own struggles and challenges. This is an important and often helpful strategy.

Other strategies the authors offer as part of their ten steps toward a better relationship with your mother include:

  • Remember your mother’s age – not just in number of years, but also in terms of her psychological and physical state.
  • Keep a sense of humor about your mother
  • Decide what personality traits you share with your mother
  • Confront the difficult issues that divide you.

I found that in reading this book, I discovered direct comparisons to the relationship I have with my own mom, and gained some new insights. This has helped lead me to a better understanding of both my mother and of myself. Well worth the read!

Note: One of the authors of this book is well-known psychotherapist, Alyce Faye Cleese the wife of the actor, John Cleese. I didn’t realize this until I was well into the book, but it’s an interesting note. She had access not only to John and his relationship with his mother, but was able to speak with several other celebrities as well about their mothers. While this certainly added a bit of interest to the book, it was not its main point.

Even More Updated Note: I recently found out that Alyce Faye Cleese and actor, John Cleese, divorced in 2009. She is now the ex-wife of John Cleese. Really, though, this has no bearing on the book one way or the other! Just wanted to keep everyone abreast of the situation.  :-)

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Book Discussion: “You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation” by Deborah Tannen

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Whether you are a mother or a daughter I would suggest reading this book! I guess that means just about anyone who is female then. The author, Deborah Tannen, explains the reasons why mothers and daughters have such trouble communicating and why so often we seem to get our wires crossed…like when your mom says something that she thinks isn’t a criticism but you take it so completely as one!

The author says that improving communication between mothers and daughters requires, above all else, understanding and seeing the situation from the other’s point of view. Well, that’s something that doesn’t always come so easily, is it? But she also gives some pointers and strategies that may help.

One note: despite the wealth of interesting, insightful, and helpful information in this book, I struggled to get through it. It wasn’t as organized as I would have liked and I wasn’t always sure what each section was really all about. Sometimes ideas and points were repeated, but I was anxious to get to the strategies at the end so I kept reading. Despite this personal challenge, I found the book to be chockfull of information and I can say it is well worth the read.

Here are some major points I took away from the book:

  • The key to improving any mother-daughter relationship is the desire to do so…it doesn’t even really matter if it is the daughter or mother or both with the desire. As long as one of them works to change their behaviors, reactions and attitudes toward the other, the relationship can improve. It really can!
  • Everything we say has meaning on two levels: the message or dictionary definition of your words on which everyone agrees; and the metamessage or the personal interpretation of the words which often triggers an emotional response.
  • The main topics about which mothers tend to criticize (although, they see it as “advising” or “making a suggestion”) are hair, clothes, weight and how to raise your children.
  • Mothers and daughters tend to expect more from each other than from anyone else.
  • There is a constant struggle between mothers and daughters to balance closeness vs. distance and being the same vs. being different from each other.

Deborah Tannen told several personal accounts and stories in the book about her relationship with her own mother. While mothers can certainly be critical of their daughters, she mentioned that daughters often place the same critical eyes on their mothers (oh, just think of those teenage years!). In fact, when roles start to reverse as our mothers age, we actually can end up doing some of the same things to them that they always did to us. One case in point:

The author said that her mother had always been very critical of her hair; however, her mother’s never looked good either. Ms. Tannen says that she would tell her elderly mother that her hair didn’t look good, and would actually find herself fixing it whenever she would see her. She then realized, though, that she treasured those times with her mother. “I could feel my affection for my mother swell as I combed her hair and smoothed it down. There was something so intimate about handling her hair, so moving about the way she trusted me to do it.”

The mother-daughter relationship is certainly an extremely complicated one that is filled with expectations, conflicts, and history. As Deborah Tannen states, if mothers and daughters can “step outside the loop and watch the process unfold, they could see clearly what’s happening and also see ways to change the script.” We often end up playing out previous hurtful conversations with our mothers.The key is to break out of this pattern…listen to the ways we talk to each other and learn to talk to each other in new ways.

Here are just a few of the many suggestions offered in this book for improving mother-daughter relationships:

  • Understanding the motives behind criticism may help (that it comes from a place of caring and concern).
  • Realizing you have the power to respond differently is significant.
  • Mothers should try to resist the temptation to give advice, offer help or make suggestions to grown daughters and should, instead, look for other ways to exercise their influence.
  • Mothers need to feel needed – daughters might find ways to involve their mothers in their lives without compromising their independence.
  • Keep a sense of humor.
  • Sometimes it’s best to keep your mouth shut – saying, “I’m not going to say anything about…” is NOT keeping quiet!

The information and suggestions in this book, while certainly specific to the mother-daughter dynamic can also be helpful in other relationships as well. The key is to try to “rewrite” history between the two people. Just trying to understand where the other person’s comment comes from, reframing it, and finding new ways to react, can go a long way in improving our relationships. It may not always work, but it’s certainly worth a try…whether you’re a mother or a daughter!

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