Guilt… or compassion?

The word of the day is… guilt. As usual. Nothing new there!

I am thinking about the guilt I feel towards my mother a lot and really trying to figure something out. As I said yesterday. T doesn’t think this is actually guilt at all – but fear. I am not so sure but think perhaps it is both things together.

So here are the facts:

When my mother cried at my hen night I felt sorry for her. Sad for her and then I felt instantly guilty. Guilty that I hadn’t spent enough time with her that evening, guilty that she felt pushed out of my night (and my life nowadays), guilty that she felt so bad she cried that much. And.. as much as I hate to admit it, I suppose I felt a glimmer of hope that the tears were the beginning of the epiphany that I have hoped for for like.. ever.

I didn’t feel scared. I didn’t worry what she was going to do next.. what would happen if I didn’t soothe her – honestly I didn’t. I just felt a deep sadness for her. It made me hurt seeing how sad she was. Again, I suppose I (hoped?) that she was crying because she was realising I was gone now –grown up – grown away.

I told my fiancé and my T about the tears and both of them reacted in much the same way, they basically said “pfftt” and made references to her tears being crocodile tears or fake tears. I disagreed (still do) – the tears were real, I know they were real. What they were about however I suppose is anyone’s guess. T thinks her tears were due to her envy or her anger that she wasn’t the centre of attention that night and that she HAD to be on her best behaviour because people were watching her. She said “it is ALL she could do!”. I felt a bit of anger in me when T spoke about her tears as being fake and I found myself just nodding along agreeing so that, basically, we could change the subject and end the conversation. [This is why I didn’t explain to her what happened next].

What the tears did to me, other than make me feel sad for her, was to want to show her some kind of kindness. I suppose I wanted to offer her something to cling to – show her that all is not lost. I guess that means I wanted to make her feel a bit better. T thinks I wanted to make her feel better because I have spent my entire life being hypervigilent to her emotions and so naturally I would want to change that mood. I get that – I GET it but it just doesn’t FEEL like that was my motive. Actually I think that it just triggered me into the rescuer. I’ve read a lot about relationship triangles over the years I’ve been having therapy and so I think I can recognise this is what happened now. My mother cast herself in the role of the victim – her tears were probably genuine tears of sadness – but for herself. I guess perhaps she was crying that I would no longer be there with her in the way that I used to (enmeshed) and that made her genuinely sad). So, she was the victim and naturally, being empathetic, I took on her sadness and wanted to make her feel better.

I get that being a rescuer is not a good thing – I understand it is not where I should be AND I get the risks that come with that but at the same time, is there really that much wrong with seeing/feeling her pain and wanting her to hurt a bit less? Would it not make me a bit of a psychopath if I didn’t care or if I found it amusing somehow? I mean, just because she has hurt me so much doesn’t mean I should want to punish her or get my own back does it? If it does then that doesn’t really feel like healing to me.

Having said that, I DO understand that just the fact I was drawn back into the triangle is not a good thing. It means that I become the rescuer and then I (personally) drop my guard, forget my own boundaries and people-please. Perhaps it makes me vulnerable to be hurt again. I understand that the downside to being a rescuer is both that you prevent the other person (the self-diagnosed “victim) from helping themselves but also that you can end up feeling resentful and exhausted from carrying someone else’s load.

So what exactly is the middle ground then? I mean, no harm was done by me going to her house the next day and taking her some flowers. Yes, I broke my own boundary of not wanting to see her alone but I knew that I would not engage in certain conversations, I knew I would leave if things headed in a negative direction…. Once I had left I felt relieved. Relieved that I would have hopefully made her feel a bit better and relieved that I had made myself feel better in the process.

Anyway…

I have read a lot about the guilt that daughters of narcissistic mothers feel and it seems to stem from the fact that because we are not taught that we are a separate person in our own right, we learn that we are an extension of her – that we don’t have our own individuality, beliefs, likes and dislikes, opinions etc and because we are so desperate to get her love and approval, we do whatever we can do to keep her happy – in the hope she will eventually love us. I’ve done all sorts of things to try and get my mother’s love and affection over the years, ALL SORTS of things… I can safely say that none of them worked. In fact, the one thing that she REALLY wanted was for me to “meet a nice man and get married” and actually now that I am doing that, it is evident that is the very WORST thing I could have done.

And so I guess the guilt I am feeling now is not past guilt – it is present guilt. It is guilt that I have pulled away from her. Guilt that I have separated.. individuated (at last). It is guilt that she is damaged – after all, she has NPD, that IS a personality disorder. I feel sorrow for her that her life experiences made her this way. Sadness that she will never experience genuine happiness. I feel sorry for her that she will spend her entire life feeling the way she does, deep down – whether or not she is aware of that or not. That she will always, always be looking for more. More alcohol to numb the pain, more men to boost her ego, more clothes to boost her self-esteem.

I feel sadness for her as she probably struggles to understand what happened to the relationship between us that she viewed as “closeness” (as did I once). I feel deep compassion for the fact that once she was a child herself, once she felt so utterly emotionally neglected, so disapproved of – let’s face it, the reason she couldn’t mother me is because of the damage her own mother did to her. Perhaps it made me bitterly angry – triggered by seeing a tiny, innocent baby laying there needing her to love it and she was triggered in the same way I have been triggered before at seeing my stepdaughter and my fiancé together. I won’t ever know the answer to what really happened to her as a child, or how she really felt. I won’t ever know exactly why she couldn’t mother me how I needed to be mothered but I do understand she wasn’t born that way.

I also understand that none of that makes it okay that she made me feel how she did. I get what my fiancé and my T mean when they say “that woman has a lot to answer for” as I have cried to them over and over again for all the different hurts I am having to grieve. I get that just because she was hurt does not mean she gets to hurt me – I GET that, I really don’t mean this to sound like I am making excuses for her.

It’s just that I feel like I have been lucky enough to get help (that she didn’t get). I have been lucky enough to find a very important relationship with my T who has been helping to re-parent me, to help me attach to her more securely, to use her to develop in the ways I didn’t when I was younger. I mean Christ, there are so many ways that T has turned my life around.. but she didn’t get that.

I feel lucky that I met a genuine, kind and loving man like my fiancé (after having dated idiot after idiot like she did for many years) – although I do believe this could only happen because of the above! If I hadn’t got help I have no doubt whatsoever that our relationship would have never worked. For starters his ex-wife and children would have triggered me WAY too much. Therapy helped me to navigate the insecurities. My entire relationship pattern has changed thanks to therapy and so I do feel I would have continued to date all of the wrong kinds of men.

I feel lucky that I’ve (gradually) separated from her. That I have started to find my real, authentic self. That I have started to build my own identity – realise my own likes and dislikes, figure out all of the ways that I am different to her (which is basically every single way). That I now find myself at 30 years old separate from her in every possible way (despite all of the real grief this brings – that’s for another time).

So I guess maybe I shouldn’t feel the guilt that I do.. but maybe in a way it is a good sign that I am able to feel sadness for her? Perhaps the word isn’t guilt at all – maybe the word is actually compassion?

I shouldn’t put her first now and I like to think that I don’t but is it wrong to be able to feel these things as long as they aren’t hurting me?

13 thoughts on “Guilt… or compassion?

  1. The fact that you were inconsolable on Monday suggests that this may have had an impact on you in some way. Frustration, resentment and grief that you show your mother love and care and get nothing in response. I don’t know, I’m just guessing. T’s attitude seems to be to assume that your mother is not being genuine ever and I don’t blame her for that.
    The trouble is that by showing kindness towards your mother after that incident, you’re validating that behaviour. It doesn’t make you a bad person to not react to her attention seeking. It’s ultimately about what you can handle. If being the rescuer leaves you distraught and depressed for days afterwards, is it worth it? I know that it’s tough because at the same time you don’t want to dismiss her just in case she is being genuine. x

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    1. Hmmmm interesting thoughts….. I was inconsolable Monday but this happened two weeks ago – do you think it was because of that? There’s possibly something in the getting nothing in response comment for sure.

      Hmmm I see what you mean about validating behaviour, but is crying a behaviour that should be punished or ignored do you think? Xx

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      1. No idea!
        I don’t remember suggesting that you punish her for crying. But you know enough about NPD to know the motivation for her behaviour. You are human and it’s difficult not to react. She is programmed to play on that. It’s about your mental health at the end of the day and whether you want to be drawn back into that world. I’m not judging you or anything, but you have to look out for yourself. x

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      2. I didn’t mean to suggest that you said I should punish her – I was just saying like where you say my response may be validating her behaviour, what should I do? Does that make sense?

        I absolutely don’t want to be drawn back into that world, of course I don’t, that would be insanity. I had hoped my writing explained that I was just hopeful that I could find a way to experience some compassion and be a bit gentle but still look after myself – that’s what I meant about how I need to keep an eye on my need to “rescue” her. Perhaps my writing was muddled, my thoughts certainly are. Zz

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  2. It might be that what your mother really “needs” (in the sense of, the dysfunctional needs brought on by the NPD) is for you to hang around and be the disappointment that she can use to explain away her unhappiness. “I’m the most good natured, naturally happy person ever – it’s just that the people around me are constant trouble, that I never get a moment’s peace” was my mother’s script with me and my dad.

    About the tears: how would you feel if you watched, say, a child abuser crying in the dock? If it was someone you knew? It’s normal, not psychopathic, for our sympathy to be suppressed if we know someone’s done wrong.

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  3. My Dad is the same about my Mum (he left her when I was 6) and it drives me NUTS. He acts as if she knows how she is behaving and can control it, that she is consciously manipulating and emotionally blackmailing and so on. I think your Mum’s tears were genuine, she will be grieving in many of the same ways you are, but she probably has no real awareness of what those tears are caused by. I think being able to hold compassion for your mum but with clear boundaries about what is and isn’t okay for you around her is the end goal ultimately and being able to do that will be a sign of how much you’ve grown as a person. Being angry with someone with a serious mental disorder only takes you so far in your healing.

    I’ve said before, but I sometimes wish my Mum had something more obviously wrong with her and something more accepted as a mental illness- if she was abusive and damaging because of e.g. schizophrenia, people would understand that I don’t blame her entirely for how she has been (though I do think she made serious mistakes in keeping on abusing us rather than getting some kind of help), that I understand she has a mental disorder and wish her well, but that I can’t see her because it is too damaging for me and my daughter. K has always said about wishing my Mum well, and acknowledged her sadness, and I am now starting to be able to do that myself. I think I am starting to be able to do both because my own boundary – not seeing her at all, which isn’t necessarily right for everyone – is starting to sink in as the only viable path for me and I am beginning to accept that as the reality – this makes it a lot easier to hold compassion for her, because it doesn’t lead me to doubt my decision.

    It is an absolute minefield to walk through, but you are doing great in working your way through it and putting it into words. And you’re helping me make sense of my own journey through it too, and the ways in which things have shifted – it’s a whole year since I saw my mum and brother on Sunday…

    XXX

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  4. wow this is really beautiful and deep. It seems like you’ve slowly moved towards forgiveness. I used to hate the word “forgiveness” but I think forgiveness doesn’t have to mean that you forget and let the person walk all over you. It means that you forgive but yet have your own boundaries and life, it’s like you’re rising above it all. You might be finally freed from the grip of pain and hurt and anger that this all has caused you. ❤

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    1. Ah Vera you always say such lovely and kind things. I’m not sure whether I’m totally there but at least I’m able to entertain the idea of compassion without getting angry. Usually when someone says compassion I get instantly annoyed ha. I just want to find a way to not feel angry, not feel resentment but also not rescue – try and find some kind of in-between where I can feel compassion and sadness for her but not remove my own boundaries. Does that make sense? Xx

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  5. I’m thinking probably the more you’re able to dig into what’s underlying the guilt, and reframe from a perspective of compassion, the easier it will be to break out of the stuck-ness that often goes along with guilt.

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    1. Get what you’re saying… I was trying to dig into the guilt as I wrote this and I’m now wondering if it wasn’t guilt as such, more compassion. I want to be able to feel compassion for her without being sucked into the dynamic, find a way to feel sadness for her but still keep my own boundaries to prevent any further hurt x

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  6. Twink, I am right there with you on wanting to treat my narcisstic mom with compassion, while remaining detached from her attempts to manipulate me. It’s really hard to achieve.

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