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Abuse, Neglect or just plain Mean….Which lab...

Abuse, Neglect or just plain Mean….Which label fits your Mother?

I ran across an interview after reading a very old blog post (from 2009) regarding a book called Mean Mothers:  Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt, by Peg Streep.  I found an old blog post (Check out the Breaking the Taboo of Mean Mothers Post here).  After looking for more information on this book and its Author I discovered an interview done with it’s author on ABC News by Robin Roberts.  (See Interview Clip Here)

After reading the dated blog and watching the interview I had some strong reactions.

First, I can’t tell you how I struggled with the relationship I had with my mother until I had a proper label.  I wanted to call her abusive, but I had no visible scars.  I wanted to call her neglectful, but I was fed, clothed and educated.  I wanted to call her mean, but she was covert and always really good at being sweet and loving to everyone else, just not me.  I wanted desperately to have a label to put on it.  As you can see in the interview, Robin Roberts begins the interview by telling the Author how wonderful her own mother is.  The line of questions that followed clearly told me Robin didn’t understand.  Just like the rest of the world, I thought and representative of something I think we all feel.  Society as a whole just doesn’t accept that I am wounded by what my mother has done to me and I am in need of healing.

English: Mother's Day card

Mothers Day is excruciating  because it reminds us that this is way we are SUPPOSED to feel, the popularity of the holiday lends us to believe everyone else has a mother to revere.  What’s wrong with us?  I remember visiting my mother in Florida and after a week and leaving her home I couldn’t drive fast enough and far enough to get away.  I talked my poor husbands ear off until I heard him use the words abusive.  And we had a 16 hour drive ahead of us.  It still wasn’t enough and just didn’t sit well, I didn’t know why.  With no visible scars, abuse just didn’t seem to be an “acceptable” description.

Unless you’ve NEVER lived up to your mothers expectations (even though I was successful at many things), you’ve NEVER looked good enough to garner a compliment (You know, Barbara if you had a full length mirror that wouldn’t happen to you!), you’ve NEVER been told you were valued for who you are (instead of what have you done for me lately) and unless you’ve grown up with such little self esteem you have no idea of who you really are or what you’re truly capable of, you won’t understand the monumental damage mothers can do.  Robin Roberts really had no understanding and (I felt) really tried to goad the Author into reaching a point of admitting her mother was just a “good disciplinarian”.  I agreed with Robin, our mothers are not supposed to be our friends, but she clearly was out of her empathic zone.  Walking around with this relationship on my shoulders was always like wearing an oversized wool coat that was weighted with the rain that fell continuously out of the big black cloud that seemed to be over me.  Society didn’t understand it, there wasn’t anybody I could talk to about it because I couldn’t define it and I was always under the impression (as are most abused women) that if I could just do more, my mother would see my value.  Well, she never did and it wasn’t until she died and I was completely worn out that I begun to look for answers.  I had the energy to do this after her death because FINALLY the black cloud was gone and I could see brightness to my life with the realization of not having to ever have to engage with her again.  I was  FREE!

So I became curious, why was she so mean?  My research led me to Dr. Karyl McBrides Book, “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?”  I read every page with an absolute wonder, How could this Dr. describe my mother to a perfect tee AND understand the damage it can do to you?  I finally had my label!  My Mother wasn’t abusive (but she did abuse), she wasn’t neglectful (but she did neglect) and she wasn’t just mean (although the things she said were mean spirited).  My mother had a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, no other therapists had helped me come to this description and rationale.

Why was this so helpful to me?  It removed the stigma of this bad relationship and all the weight I carried as a result of it and put it directly on my mothers head.  It made the problem with my mother about HER and not about me.  I no longer had the drive to prove myself worthy of her love, or even wonder when I was going to get it…..  There was something wrong with my mother that prevented her from loving me in the manor “normal moms” do.  She had issues just like everyone else, and hers prevented her from being a good, kind loving and supportive mother.   This label has allowed me to package her in words people understand and this allows me to read, write and talk with people about the relationship…..it brings so much clarity.  I am worthy of love….she just couldn’t love.  I am worthy of belief and support…..she just couldn’t verbalize it.  HER problem…..not my problem.

Now my mission is to surround myself with the right people in my life.  People that will form my “manufactured family” instead of my biological family.

When I think of all the women (men & children too) that struggle with this same relationship I can become a new support system and offer empathy and understanding.

Final two thoughts:

Some people are never going to understand how damaging our parents can be if they lack the empathy for someone who hasn’t been as lucky as they were to be born into “TV Land” with perfect supportive parents.  There is a sense of responsibility I have to better articulate the damning effects of a Narcissistic mother and I need to educate myself so that I can.

I am SO LUCKY to have found the “root cause” of my mothers behavior.  I don’t have to wear this heavy rain soaked coat of despair any more and I must remember to FEEL lucky!  I am healthy, humorous, smart and well loved.  I did that for myself!


  1. Terrific post. I recently started reading “Mean Mothers” and I’ve read the other books you mentioned here. I’m glad I didn’t see the interview — I get frustrated at the general view of the world that we are being drama queens about our mothers and that “everyone has dysfunctional families”. It was bad enough when I had to fight my own belief that my parents must be good people, so all the badness in me was the problem. A little more understanding from outsiders might’ve helped me seek treatment sooner.

    However, blogs like yours and our developing community is providing that service for others. I think our honesty shines through. And as you said, some will never get it, never believe us. But if we can help even a handful of others like us, we are helping stop a vicious cycle.

    Do I have to pick just one of “abuse, neglect or just plain mean”? She has been all three, separately and together. Neglect is probably her lesser only in that I was fed. But emotionally I got a big black hole from her that sucked my soul nearly dry. I got physically abused just enough to teach me how to avoid it most of the time. I also think she feared discovery and probably was concerned I would tell. The psychological stuff was easy to deny and blame on me. Liar, spoiled ungrateful brat and cold were just a couple of the labels I was given.

    • barbara joy

      13 July

      This community we are building for ACONs is such a healthy alternative to self loathing! Glad you’re part of the contributing force!

  2. Can I check off “D. All of the above” ??!
    How’s that for a typical AC response-asking permission if it’s OK to feel as I do! (Kidding, but you get my drift.)
    I’m going to take a look at that interview which I already know will be a terrific motivator for me to get off the couch and…get some more ice tea and settle in for a good read.

  3. admin

    14 July

    I remember when I first was able to put a label on my moms behavior too. When I first looked up NPD I too realized something about my situation that gave me clarity. I wish I knew all of this stuff though when I was living at home and going through it. Wild stuff how such a thing can affect the rest of ones life.
    My question is how come everything in my life outside of this one area is good, yet this one area of upbringing from a npd mom still affects me and slows me down? And another question, is accepting it and writing about it or getting it out by talking about it the only solution to not be affected by it for the rest of my life? I can accept that it happened, others go through worse, yet why does it still haunt me and slow down my forward progress in life even though everything else is good?
    What is the overall ultimate solution to knowing about it and growing from it so that she can’t do it anymore to me even years later in life when it’s physically stopped and when I’m away from it?

    • barbara joy

      16 July

      Good Morning Admin (sometimes I wish we all weren’t so anonymous). The relationship between mother and child is the first and often most important relationship we will ever have in our lives. This relationship teaches us to trust our instincts, it teaches us how we should really feel about ourselves and it can determine the choices we make as a result of it.

      Speaking just for myself, I believe NOW, that although I was tortured (emotionally) as a child, this gave me a different perspective than most people. I am grateful and appreciative for EVERY nicety people may pay me, even for things that most people take for granted. I consider this one of the “GIFTS” of being raised by a crazy person.

      Looking back, this one broken relationship seemed to rule my decision making skills…. Although I had escaped (grown up and moved out) my mothers reach, she still had a firm hold on how I felt about myself. I was just never good enough, so that manifested it self in so many ways…I married two times men that were just as emotionally abusive as my mother. I acted like I was on the attack most of the time (a good offense is the best defense) and every job I ever had I attacked it like I had to prove I was better, faster and stronger than anybody else…. It drove me crazy.

      For me, once my mother died and the weight of constant anger had lifted I thought, Why didn’t I take control of my own emotions earlier? Instead of playing the great positive messages that were now in my head, I played her comments to me over and over.

      I guess in other words I gave myself permission to focus on me, rather than her…. I knew what I wanted and needed and I wasn’t going to let her comments (even though she was far away most of the time) drown out any positive messages I could tell myself. It takes a lot of work and sometimes, I just had to behave like I was okay and the feeling would follow.

      Thanks for reading my blog!

  4. Doug Hart

    14 July

    I am with TW. My mother is a full service narcissist. She is the best in the west and highly recommended in the east when it comes to all inclusive crazy making.

    • barbara joy

      16 July

      Doug, don’t you just wish you could click your heels together three times and go home (to your safe place). I thought growing up and moving out would solve my problem and it SO DOESN’T!

      Thanks for reading my blog!!

  5. admin, Respectfully I’d suggest there isn’t any “ultimate solution” because one size unfortunately doesn’t fit all. But it certainly gave me peace of mind, a helluva lot of humor and a lot less compassion/understanding for those who wanna hand me a bunch of “Mommy” platitudes. I firmly believe in “educating” the ignorant 😉 IMO, the reality is vestiges of trauma remain with human beings for the rest of their lives. How they manifest themselves is as unique as the individual.
    Ask any combat vet.

    • barbara joy

      16 July

      Right on TW! Each solution provided in the many blogs I’ve read are a great insight for each of us. Willing to try out as many as I have to in order to get it right. There’s nothing like talking to people who “get it”.

  6. Anonymous

    15 July

    Wonderful post! I’ve only been blogging for a few weeks, but I’ve reading these blogs for the last half year or so, and have read books about NPD for some years now. It is hugely helpful to have these conversations with others. Thanks for the post. Cal’s Sis

    • barbara joy

      16 July

      Thanks for stopping by my blog Cal’s Sis! I have found a lot of comfort in the blogging world myself. I give it credit for helping me to find my voice. I believe together we can create a safe place to land and offer some great validation and support!

  7. Great post! The label was what did it for me; having the label of narcissism helped me see that what she did was wrong even if society couldn’t see it. This community is so needed and am glad it is here. xoxo

  8. […] Abuse, Neglect or just plain Mean….Which label fits your Mother? (onbothsidesnow.wordpress.com) […]

  9. Barbara

    26 July

    A Facebook group for DoNMs who are no contact or about to go No Contact:

    • barbara joy

      26 July

      Thank you for looking at my blog: http://onbothsidesnow.wordpress.com/ I would like to join your Facebook group DoNM Freedom! I’m not sure how to do it since it is a locked group. As, I hope, you can tell by my blog I am also a DoNM.

      Together we’re better…. Barbara Coleman

      Sent from my iPad

  10. Daren

    4 September

    Many thanks to people such as yourself who publicly voice these issues through blogs and books.

    I am the husband of a DoNM. Although my wife was always aware of there being ‘issues’ with her mother, she always perceived that she was the problem and not her NM. Whilst my wife has gone through (and continues to go through) therapy, the label of NPD has been a revelation. It is a ticklist of her mother’s behaviours and attitudes. Every visit to her was an emotional drain and our visits would become fewer and fewer. She hardly ever visited us, maybe once a year.

    I was struck by her issues during a Christmas get together. We live away, so rarely see our nieces and nephew. As we were not going to be there for Christmas Day my wife wanted to make the present giving to our nieces and nephew special. She sat them down and said, “I’ve got a letter here from Santa and some presents” Just as my wife was about to start reading the letter, her mother came along shaking a tin of sweets, interrupting my wife and taking the children’s attention away from their Aunt who was trying to do something nice and memorable for them. How desperate must NM have felt to not want her daughter and grandchildren to experience something nice. Just because it wasn’t about her. And to top it all off, after the presents were eventually handed over, my wife’s enabling father said ‘Is that it?” Priceless.

    The thing that really brought matters to a head though was seeing our niece being the recipient of these behaviours by her mother, my wife’s sister. She displays classic NPD traits herself. It came to the point that the emotional abuse and neglect was such that the matter was reported to Social Services. Regrettably their input was minimal, but it placed our niece on the radar should matters escalate. Seeing our niece’s treatment really opened my wife’s eyes to the way she herself was treated, and the total denial by her sister and mother of any wrongdoing on their part.

    This confrontation has resulted in my wife going No Contact with her parents and sister. It has been 8 months. The only regret is that we have effectively been cut off from our niece. It’s like throwing her to the wolves, knowing what is going on but being helpless. People who know what my niece has gone through see us as supportive and encouraging. My wife’s mother and sister see us as a threat. The secret is out, we have stood up to be counted and we are dangerous.

    My wife now sees how toxic her mother is, and that there is no prospect of any relationship. I can see her growing and her self esteem recover by the day. She now sees herself as valid, being worthy of love. As you say, the problem was with her mother and it is her responsibility to deal with it. My wife’s responsibility is to herself.

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