How To Survive a Narcissistic Mother and Keep Your Sanity: Jaime Grace
Timing. This article was sent to our team from several listeners of the show. It does not diagnose anyone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It simply highlights in pointed detail the hurt and pain caused by a highly narcissistic mother. As we posted more information about this we expected a bit of backlash. We received nothing but thanks from people all over the globe.
Jaime Grace joins us from his counseling practice in Portugal to discuss his work and his own maternal relationship that spawned this article.
Grace’s work incorporates Western, depth psychology, developmental theory, as well as meditative, contemplative, and mindfulness-based approaches to interpersonal and personal growth, spiritual transformation, and emotional healing.
His interests and therapeutic training are in the field of analytical and Jungian psychology, and attachment theory. His spiritual background is influenced by Buddhist concepts, Sufism, Christian Mystics, and Shamanistic experiences.
At present, Grace runs his online private practice worldwide (in English and Portuguese). He also runs workshops online and around the world. Besides that, he spends the rest of his time being a spiritual mentor, psychotherapist, shamanic practitioner, teacher, coach and writer.
How to Survive a Narcissistic Mother and Keep Your Sanity: Jaime Grace
Download Transcript HERE: How to Survive Narcissistic Mother Jaime Grace.
KRISTIN: Hey everyone. This is Kristin Sunanta Walker from Mental Health News Radio. I’m here with Jaime Grace. I came across an article he wrote called How to Survive a Narcissistic Mother and Keep Your Sanity. It was so good, and I see it’s been shared a lot on the internet. I knew I needed to talk to this man, and lo and behold a wonderful website came up with all the great things you do. So, Jaime, thank you so much for agreeing to come on the show.
JAIME: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
KRISTIN: Absolutely. Where are you calling in from?
JAIME: I’m calling from Portugal.
KRISTIN: Fantastic! Lucky you!
JAIME: Well, it’s very cold here today.
KRISTIN: It’s cold here too. My voice is not usually this deep, but with the winter coming I ended up with a nasty virus. You’re the first show I’ve been able to do in about two weeks, rather than the usual every day show. Please tell our listeners about yourself and what it is that you do.
JAIME: I’m a psychotherapist. I work online mainly. I also run workshops. I’m also in the process of writing the book that is following that article. It will be ready in the first semester of next year – of 2018. I’m in the process of finding an editor. So that is the brand-new news.
KRISTIN: Narcissism is such a prevalent subject these days. Is that what prompted you to write the book? The number of people that are talking about it?
JAIME: Not really. It’s more like … I study psychology in university, but I was also raised by a narcissistic mother. In order to keep my sanity, I had to develop some strategies and a way of dealing with the situation. In the end, that led me to write about it. Things began to pile up: the things I was writing and reflecting on, my interactions with her, and what I was learning about narcissism. So, I began to write about it. I was completely amazed at the impact of that article because people have been writing to me and saying thank you. I wasn’t expecting that.
KRISTIN: It’s excellent. I have interviewed people from all over the globe about this subject and read so many things about it after doing this show for four years. When I read your article, I thought you nailed it perfectly, so thank you for that.
JAIME: Thank you for the compliment.
KRISTIN: Does your mom know that you have written about this subject?
JAIME: Well, she doesn’t speak English.
KRISTIN: So, you’re safe in that way – gotcha!
JAIME: Yes. But she knows I’m writing a book. She’s very happy because I told her the other day that I wrote an article on the internet and got a lot of answers from people. Being a narcissist, she was very happy because it’s important to have people liking what you are doing. But she didn’t care about the subject, so it is just about people being impressed by what I was writing. That’s the main thing for a narcissist.
KRISTIN: Right. Oh man, do I get it. At what age were you when you started to figure out that this was your mother?
JAIME: It was when I was near fifty. When you grow up in a family, you think that family is completely normal because it’s what you are used to. You think, “Well, my mother is a bit like this or a bit like that.” But you don’t put a label on it; you just go along. You grow up in a certain environment and you think probably most people do have the same kind of thing. Then you realize that it’s not, and people have different experiences growing up in families in different environments. But that comes up later, and only after I finished studying psychology did I begin to realize the depth of what I call the “spell” that one grows into. You see a certain aspect of reality and then you begin to see deeper. It’s a bit like Alice in Wonderland. You begin to go down the rabbit hole, and then you begin to discover things about yourself and about events that happened. You begin to rewrite or reword that narrative. It’s a going back into your past and rebuilding it in a new light. Sometimes it’s really painful because things that you thought were true were not really true; it was just an invention.
KRISTIN: Yes, the hardest part is having whichever parent was your focal point or compass become the narrator of your entire life story. When you grow up and realize that a lot of that was baloney, it is extremely painful. Then you go back, and you must rewrite the narrative for yourself using your own voice. That is painful also. For me, I’ve had to look at a lot of things within myself and recognize some narcissistic traits. I can either continue with this pattern that seems to span across generations in my family, or I can stop that with my own son now while he is still in his twenties. That’s also hard because you are looking at your own behavior and healing from what you now find abhorrent, but you are seeing it within yourself. That is really painful. I’ve found that you must let yourself heal from the childhood you didn’t have before you start picking apart yourself for what you have done out of what you learned.
JAIME: Exactly. What you are saying, most authors of narcissism really forget. When you become of age, you begin to reparent yourself.
KRISTIN: Yes, the reparenting of yourself. I’m just doing that now and I am 47.
JAIME: Yeah, it takes time, but that is the process. You cannot just push it or force it to go faster. Sometimes it is very much about the life experiences you have, the reflection you do about your life, the experience of people that you meet, and the events that happen to make you reflect about stuff. Reparenting is really important in this kind of healing because it’s like you begin to build a kind of template of a parent you didn’t have. Then the relation of that template with the child that suffered is still in us. In creating that kind of a relationship, you begin to see things in a completely different light. You begin to allow yourself to feel things that you were not allowed to feel or experience.
KRISTIN: Yes, that constant looking for the truth. I think a lot of people, if they don’t become a narcissist themselves, become a whole lot of other unhealthy things until they get healthy. But the hardest one to get out of is the narcissistic piece. You become a truth seeker if you don’t want to go in that direction because you are constantly living in lies. Who are you going to believe? Of course, you will believe your parent. So, we seek the truth. I wasn’t surprised when I read your article and saw what you do and saw “Awake Development.” Of course, he is a truth seeker. You become invested in finding out what the actual truth is about anything because you’ve been lied to forever.
JAIME: Yes. One of the most nasty and cruel things that people who endure narcissists face is gaslighting. Narcissists mold reality the way that they want so that it fits their agenda, so they alter experiences, facts, or even feelings. “No, you’re not feeling that. You’re just making that up.” Most children, at a certain point, begin to doubt themselves – their own feelings, their experiences and their own thoughts. I think this is a crucial point because gaslighting is not just a distortion of cognition and emotion. It is deeper than that because it cuts the connection with your core being.
KRISTIN: I was going to say with your intuition.
JAIME: Yeah. It’s like you begin to doubt yourself, and by doing that it’s like you lose your compass towards life because you don’t trust yourself. Regaining that kind of connection with the Self – with a capital “S” – and as we were talking earlier about the reparenting – it is going back to heal what was severed in that process of growing up.
KRISTIN: Absolutely. We must be so tender with ourselves while doing that because there is no more critical of a parent than a narcissistic one. You can just feel their criticism, they don’t even have to say it. But to them, they are the most loving, supportive parent you’ve ever had. I think the thing that killed me was … I know where my mother learned to be the way she is because my grandmother (although she was a wonderful grandmother to me) was definitely a narcissist. I see where this pattern was created. I just don’t want it to continue in my family. I don’t want my son to have kids and then redo this pattern. I’m glad we are catching these things now before he starts that journey. The weirdest thing for me was this recording we had of my grandmother telling my mother, “You make up all these stories that about me.” My mother turned around and said the same exact thing to me twenty years later. I remember sitting there (it was a big AHA moment for me) and saying, “Do you not realize I am the one who converted that cassette recording of grandma saying the same thing to you, and you are turning around and saying the same thing to me?” That was me stepping out of her bubble of untruths, looking at it from a truthful perspective. But she didn’t see that truth when the words were coming out of her mouth.
JAIME: Exactly. That is one of the traits. Narcissists don’t like self-inquiry. They don’t question themselves. What makes narcissism go from one generation to the next one is because they don’t review the roles they play or were taught by their parents. They just repeat it. When you were saying, Kristin, that you began to reflect on that, it’s like a new perspective that changed the whole scenario of growing up as a narcissist because you began to have that skill of self-inquiry and began to ask questions to yourself. Is this ok? Why has this happened? Then questions begin to follow each other until suddenly you begin to look at yourself and to the world and the relations you have in a very different light.
KRISTIN: I can see why I’ve had one toxic relationship after another, and sometimes many at the same time. The last few years I have been weeding them out. None of us will escape toxic people. They live and breathe. I love how spiritual people get when they get to this place where “Nothing toxic enters my sphere because I am so spiritual.” That’s just not reality.
JAIME: Oh, don’t make me go there.
KRISTIN: That’s just another form of narcissism in my opinion. You are just using spirituality to couch it. I’ve been able to pick up on it more quickly and decide that I don’t want to go down that road.
JAIME: You’re touching another subject that is very dear to me – spiritual bypass.
KRISTIN: Yes, I saw that article. That was so good.
JAIME: It’s amazing that because you believe in something or because you bought the Buddha statue that you are more spiritual than the next person. BS! It follows the path of the narcissist. It’s just the outside stuff.
KRISTIN: Exactly. They can go to therapy. I’ve known a few who do go to therapy and I think, “What is your therapist doing? Nothing is changing.”
JAIME: It doesn’t work.
KRISTIN: It doesn’t. I wonder how the therapist feels about taking their money every week when they know they won’t change. One thing I love about the spiritual healer that I work with, if she sees that you are not going to grow, she will tell you she can’t help you anymore.
JAIME: I cannot talk for other therapists, but I’ve had clients who were narcissists. (They didn’t last long, by the way.) I remember one woman. One of the first things she said to me was, “I’m here because I have people in my life who are just terrible. I need for you to teach me techniques for me to manage them better and to control them better.” She was not the problem; the problem was always the others. If a narcissist wants to go into therapy, in general, they have an ulterior motive. They want to control other people better. They don’t want to change themselves. The problem is the others; it’s not them.
KRISTIN: That’s a tough one. I’ve had to look at that too while cleaning people out of my life. Because I am the one who keeps having these people come into my life, is it me or is it them? The reality is that it’s a bit of both. Now, I have this really loving group of friends. Consequently, many of them are such good mothers. I think that it’s a nice reflection of how I feel now that I can experience friendships with these people who are really great moms themselves.
JAIME: You are touching a very interesting topic. When you come from a narcissistic family, you come with a set of values that is unconscious, but you value other narcissistic personalities. In a way, you feel drawn to them. You don’t know why. You think you are falling for someone amazing, but you are just following the pattern, until you can say, “Wait a minute,” and look at those relationships in a different light.
KRISTIN: It is so bizarre to go back, take inventory, and rewrite the entire narrative of your history from as far back as you can remember. I’ve even looked at relationships I have now, like with my ex-husband. So much has been influenced by what my mother thought of him while she was telling me that it was what I thought of him. I look back and think, “No, he wasn’t this horrible, awful person.” He was raised by a narcissistic mother too.
JAIME: In rewriting the story, you begin to reflect on what happened. “Is this really like this? Is there a different angle to this?” It has a huge impact on the way you begin to choose the next steps in your life – your relationships and your goals. Things begin to change.
KRISTIN: Right. In a good way, even though it feels horribly painful while you are going through it. In terms of when you are working with someone who is having all of these “AHA” moments where they are realizing this, how do you guide them through that process of becoming, for the first time, an independent thinker?
JAIME: It depends on where the person is at that moment because you can be at very different levels of the process. For instance, if you are still living with your narcissistic mother or father, and you do not have other means of supporting yourself, it is really tough. They set the rules. It is their house and their environment. It’s difficult to get out of that situation.
KRISTIN: It’s “our family home” when you are doing what they want, and then when you aren’t doing what they want, it’s “my home”.
JAIME: Exactly. In that situation, you must deal with lots of anger and shame because there are many emotions that cannot be expressed in that kind of environment. They are not allowed. It is a kind of emotional education for the person. You are allowed to feel this – anger and sadness. You are not a robot. In most narcissistic families there is a kind of perfection – you need to be perfect. If you are not perfect, you are nothing. You’re going to be an outcast. The other part is to educate the person as to what they can expect. It’s not what they wanted to happen, but it’s what is really happening. I would like to have a parent who would treat me in this or that way and would love me. But in this kind of situation with narcissists, it’s not what we wish would happen, but it is reality and what we can count on. It’s about acceptance. You need to be ready to accept, for instance, that you are not going to be loved. That’s one of the most difficult things people must face. You were not loved by that parent, and you are not going to be loved by them. That cuts to the foundation and core of your being.
KRISTIN: Yes, exactly! It is horrible to realize that, and if you ever said that to them they would be mortified and go on and on. “I’ve done this for you and that for you. I’ve always loved you.” Then you say, “No, you’ve never seen me. You use me and anything that you see me doing that you like. You also use that to punish other people or to keep them in line with how you want them to behave. That is not really noticing and loving me.”
JAIME: Yes. You aren’t really a person; you are a project.
KRISTIN: Oh my gosh, yes. When I watch my mother focus in on someone and they become a project for her, she will try to manager their time, try to get them to be how she needs them to be, and will spend inordinate amounts of time doing all kinds of things for them. I know they must have it good because when she takes the mask off (because they dare to be an autonomous person) it is going to be a big wake up call for them. Consequently, there are people who will tolerate that. I always wonder why. Why, if you are not their child, would you tolerate that kind of behavior? That’s not a healthy relationship.
JAIME: Well, we are all suckers for love.
KRISTIN: Yes. We mistake that for love – the attention.
JAIME: Love is really important for everybody. If I show you a bit of caring, most people fall for it. Either it is true, or it is fake. That’s what I was talking about. That part is the toughest part. When people are confronted that they were not loved, nor will they be loved by that person.
JAIME: That hurts like hell! But at the same time, it is completely freeing because you can start anew. After you realize that and accept that, you can start to build your relationships based on true love, not conditional love like you were brought up with. So, it is painful and freeing at the same time. It’s a paradox. Did you see the movie The Matrix when the guy, Neil, comes out of the machine and sees for the first time what reality was? He says, “WOW!” You have a hard time believing that you have been living in a dream world.
KRISTIN: The revealing of that is something you must take in doses because it is too much to be able to operate and function in your life while you are reparenting yourself, rewriting history with the truth or whatever your truth is, knowing that you are not doing revisionist history because you are also a narcissist and you must make everything Lalaland. You are literally in there in the muck looking at things, people and situations. I realized that the only narrator of these broken relationships in my family where they just disappeared … Suddenly, these entire families of people in my life were gone. I was a kid, and I had no control over the dispelling of all these people who didn’t meet my mother’s expectations. To go back and seek out some of those people, those who would talk to me, I got their perceptions of what had happened. That was fascinating, because when you are a kid, you have to go with what your parents tell you.
JAIME: Yes. You accept the reality of your family.
KRISTIN: So, you learn who doesn’t fit, and I’ve done that – cut people out because they didn’t fit. I definitely have picked up traits that I now have to work my way back from. That is another interesting road. I like this journey because it’s a truthful one, and I have control over the narrative – how I choose to see it. I am not being oppressed or controlled away from it. It’s as if it took this long to become an adult.
JAIME: It takes a long time because when you break that spell and you go after that part of accepting that you haven’t been loved, you begin to rebuild your internal world. Then it’s challenging because you need to find the things that make sense for you: your values, your purpose, and the way you want to lead your life. Again, you must do your own parenting. You must teach yourself things that perhaps other people learn when they were kids from their parents. You begin to ask, “What’s the meaning of this? Where am I heading? What are my values?” All the things from before were dictated from that kind of a spell you were in.
KRISTIN: It’s been fascinating, some of the ways, where my own son will say, “Mom, the reason why I have this value is because you and dad were together. You loved each other; you still love each other.” His dad is my best friend and we’re extremely involved in each other’s lives. I thought, “It’s so great that he knows that.” He said to me the other day, “I had my stuff with you and dad.” (Thank God he goes to therapy.) “But I knew that you guys loved me, and I always knew that you loved each other. So, while we had some bad stuff go on, I had that core foundation of two parents who absolutely loved me and cared about me and who I was becoming.” I don’t know what that feels like, and neither does his father.
JAIME: But you know, the best way for us when we were children to learn about love is to see our parents relating to each other in loving terms. You don’t need to explain it, you just had the right models there to express love. That becomes part of you. But for those with other upbringings, like those with narcissistic families, then you have to rebuild that kind of a connection and model. This brings up … Carl Jung had an idea that on a deeper level there was this kind of connection of love. But I digress.
KRISTIN: It’s such a big topic that it’s easy to digress on so many different things. You could do twelve hours on just gaslighting.
KRISTIN: Yeah, yeah. Gaslighting is amazing. In a way, it’s not just a technique used by narcissists. If you go to intelligence services, it is one of their main weapons used to confuse people, enemies, and sometimes even friends about their own agendas. “Oh no, that didn’t happen. It happened a different way.” Even in politics – you have gaslighting all the time making things look a certain way to influence people. So, it’s not just the narcissists that are doing that. It’s done all the time around the clock.
KRISTIN: Absolutely, and social media doesn’t help at all. I call it gaslighting by proxy. I could be giving it a wrong term. But I see people posting these perfect versions of themselves as a couple, for example, and I’m getting phone calls from one or both about how miserable, awful and toxic a relationship is. Yet just yesterday there is a picture of them smiling with 150 likes and comments of, “You guys are such a cute couple.” I feel like that is gaslighting in a different way. It’s not reality either.
JAIME: I think, since we’re just now talking about love, there is not love in the world that we live in the way that we grow up. The families that support the children that are growing up on our planet today, the conditions are so awful that it is difficult to have the right environment to bring up children in a loving way. It’s not strange that narcissism is rampant worldwide. Another thing is that narcissists are quite successful in terms of … Lots of CEOs or politicians are narcissists.
KRISTIN: It’s hard to even be a truth teller about it because they look exactly how society says you should look – a big house, cars, glowing teeth (when they smile you can see the sun glaring off their teeth – not all of the of course but many of them), a prefect marriage, a perfect set of kids, white picket fence – whatever it is. We are seeing many of them being called out in the news who have been harassing women and men for ages. They are at the top of the heap of what society sees as a wonderful, respected person.
JAIME: But that’s a very insidious disease. It’s rampant in our society. You have this outward shell that is perfect, but there is no one inside.
KRISTIN: Right. They are empty, and that is why they use people. Another interesting thing I have thought is that they don’t have their own electricity.
JAIME: No. The other day I was reflecting on that. Those kind of “Nosferatu” movies – vampires.
KRISTIN: Succubus, yeah.
JAIME: Really the narcissist is in that kind of light. They feed on others. They grab attention. If someone did something right, it’s their accomplishment, or they helped or facilitated. The other person is not really the owner of the achievement. They rob emotions and thoughts.
KRISTIN: I used to recoil every time I would do a speech about child abuse or something that I was out there doing because I was abused by my father. It was so easy to blame everything on him because of what he did, so my mom got a free pass for a lot of years. (At some point, you need to stop blaming your parents for your problems. There is always that level of guilt on there as well.) But anytime there was this thunderous applause over something I did, I recoiled because I thought, “You are taking this away from me. I did this, not you. I did this, and this isn’t about you.” This loving praise that they were supposedly giving me felt so inauthentic that it would actually make me physically sick and recoil.
JAIME: You are touching again on acceptance, but it’s what I call the later acceptance. After you come out of the spell, reparent yourself, and rewrite your story, and begin to reset your life course – you have your own compass, your own values, your own direction, and you become autonomous – then you can begin to look at the narcissist as what they are. You no longer are affected by them. You can even be with them and talk with them, but you know all the tricks they use, and you are above that. What you begin to accept is that they aren’t able to feel or to have empathy. They are in a state of enmeshment in their own self illusions. So, you begin to see what they really are and accept that they are like that. But at that point, you are free. They have no control over you. They have no power over you. You are above their game.
KRISTIN: Right, and you can dip in and dip out as you feel comfortable.
JAIME: Yes, but you know all the angles.
KRISTIN: Exactly! Sometimes knowing all those angles, those can be useful in other situations in life, especially when you are dealing with other narcissists. You can recognize what is really going on and how you need to deal with this person because you know them. I think that when you become immune to that immediate falling in love … I had a wonderful therapist from Ireland, Christine Louis de Canonville, who said to me, “You need to stop falling in love with these people that you meet. It isn’t healthy.” I remember getting very angry and said, “What do you mean? It’s a wonderful ability to fall in love.” Then I realized what she was talking about, and it isn’t healthy.
JAIME: Then you would pay the price. In the beginning, it is very exciting – like fireworks. And then it’s not like that.
KRISTIN: I think the reason a lot of people get into these relationships with narcissists, especially if they’ve done it over and over again (and I speak from experience), is that they are a love addict. You are looking for that fantasy that doesn’t exist, which makes you in effect as unhealthy – if not unhealthier – as the narcissist. Perhaps the only way you aren’t as unhealthy is that you can get out of it and live in reality, but they don’t want to.
JAIME: What you just said is very interesting because if you were raised by a narcissist you were raised in an environment deprived of love. So, any small dose of love that anyone throws at you, you just go for it because you’ve been deprived of that. It’s very easy to fall for that until you realize that you were deprived, and you become conscious of that lacking on both an emotional and cognitive level. Then you will begin to ask if someone is good for you or not. You begin to reflect on your emotions which is another thing that people brought up by narcissists are lacking. You will ask yourself, “What am I feeling now? Is this really feeding me, or is it really some fireworks that are interesting but momentary?”
KRISTIN: Yes, we could talk forever on this. Is it possible for someone who has this running through generations, and both parents were narcissists to come out of it without being one themselves?
JAIME: I think one of the first things is if you begin to ask questions of yourself or have an inclination of self-inquiry to reflect about things. You can have different perspectives. I was lucky. When I was a kid, I used to ask lots of questions in a way that helped me. But I think that one of the most important things that happened in my life was when I was around … I had a consulting company for thirteen years. I had an office in Lisbon and another in Madrid. What the Christian tradition called “dark night of the soul”, I felt really disconnected and was looking for some sort of meaning. I had to review all my personality, all of my traits, all of my relationships, and all of my goals. That was a really tough time, but so rich in terms of the outcome it gave me. So, all of the narcissistic traits I had that came from my family were just reviewed or transformed into something that was useful to me for the next steps in my life and my relationship with myself and others.
KRISTIN: Well good. I know a lot of listeners, myself included, will hear that and say, “There’s hope!” There is hope for you; stop hoping for the other person to change because that isn’t going to happen and that isn’t your business anyway. Have hope that you can change and grow and get beyond this relationship that has been towering over your life. You can actually be successful without them being in the narrator of your life.
JAIME: Oh yes! That is so freeing.
KRISTIN: It is freeing to say, “I can make my own decisions. My whole life isn’t a mistake because I didn’t do what they wanted me to do. That is absolute BS.” Well, Jaime, please tell our listeners where they can find out more about you.
KRISTIN: Well, please come back on when your book is released so we can get it out there. I’ll be pre-ordering my copy. So again, thank you so much for coming on the show.
JAIME: It was a pleasure.
KRISTIN: And thanks to our listeners for another edition of Mental Health News Radio.
behavioral health, Borderline Personality Disorder, covert abuse, emotional abuse, Emotional Blackmail, mental health, Narcissistic Mother, Narcissistic Mothers, narcissistic parent, projection, revisionist history, Scapegoating, Triangulation