Growing Pains in a Growth-Stunting Family

Living With and Leaving Behind a Narcissistic Parent

  • Graphic Jennifer Aedy

If the expression “you’re only as sick as your secrets” could be applied to one category of people, it would most definitely be family. Since the breakdown of the classic nuclear family circa 1950s white suburbia, the meaning of that word has changed.

For me the meaning of family began to change in 2012 when I began meditating and reading philosophy, and soon realized to my horror just how flawed my childhood was.

Growing up, I was scared all the time; I was insecure and couldn’t make a decision without Mommy by my side. My mouth would turn to cotton if I had to speak in front of class. I wouldn’t raise my hand even if I had the right answer. I was bullied by classmates and drawn to friends with oppressive characteristics.
Rather than encouraging me to grow, my mother seemed to enjoy this. On the outside, though, we looked like the perfect mother-daughter relationship, the kind you only see in movies.

At home I would usually play on my own, either reading or putting together a puzzle, with her sitting there. I don’t remember a single time where she read to me. Many of our conversations consisted of her using me as her therapist. I was the parent child, and she would sit there for hours talking to me about ex-boyfriends and how my grandfather mistreated her. Little did I know the damage it would cause later on, when I realized there were things about my mother I wish she’d never, ever told me.

When something bothered me my feelings would get invalidated. She’d make sly comments about crushes I had on boys as if my feelings for them were wrong. One time I clearly remember her saying, “Why do you need a boyfriend, don’t you have enough love at home?” Yes, apparently no one would ever “love” me like Mommy did. This is the classic abuse scenario, but specifically a case of narcissistic abuse.

The narcissist makes you believe you’re helpless and unable to do anything without them. On the outside they will exaggerate their talents and accomplishments to make up for how small they feel inside. They only love you as long as you play the part. Any ounce of truth can send them into the legendary narcissistic rage, which is what happened once I entered adulthood.

Now the fantasy was over. Night upon night I was confronted with yelling and name-calling. She would tell me I had to “speak to a doctor.” June 2014 was when things escalated. After climbing out of the shower one night, I could hear my mother speaking to herself. When I asked her who she was talking to, she started accusing me of hearing voices.

I went into my room and slammed the door furiously, but since the door couldn’t lock properly she followed me and grabbed me by the arms. I freed my arm from her grasp but it was covered in bruises from her fingers. As I was heading for the kitchen, she pulled me by the hair and pinned me on the bed. She told me to “calm down.”

I went into my room and slammed the door furiously, but since the door couldn’t lock properly she followed me and grabbed me by the arms. I freed my arm from her grasp but it was covered in bruises from her fingers. As I was heading for the kitchen, she pulled me by the hair and pinned me on the bed. She told me to “calm down.”

During that summer I directed a short film, and it wasn’t until a few weeks later when two more similar scenarios occurred that I finally decided to move. The cops, having come to our house at least six times before, weren’t surprised to find my dog and I waiting in the police station entrance. After being interrogated for two hours, on Sept. 27 2014 at four o’clock in the morning they drove us to my grandmother’s.

Thus began my search for a room and my signing up with a counselor at Concordia’s mental health department. The first appointment is a triage, where they have you fill out a form with a list of questions involving medical history, drug and alcohol issues, and whether you’ve had mental health issues in the past.
I remember coming in feeling like the world was ending. I was depressed, having spent the summer barely sleeping and rarely eating. I was sure I had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Constant triggers occurred that would make me feel the same anxiety—every time I heard a person speak in the same tone as my mother, whether in a movie or in real-life, my mind would go into defense mode. Two days after I left, my mother got kicked out of the apartment due to a number of complaints from neighbours. I made her believe I was going to join her at her new apartment to avoid drama, and promptly moved to my new house exactly one day before she was supposed to move. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I was going to overcome this.

It’s been two and a half months since I’ve seen my mother, and despite questions from relatives, I don’t know when or if I’ll see her again. Upon trying to call my grandmother I was confronted with nagging and guilt trips, which made me realize I made the best decision. Aside from my roommates, my group of friends are like a band of brothers and are there for me in ways my family never was.

To anyone reading this that has lived or is living the same path, there’s no shame in starting over. A blank canvas gave me the chance to create the life that’s best for me, rather than carrying the burden of an outdated legacy. Counseling and therapy have taught me that family is a personal definition. Sometimes it isn’t the people you grow up with that matter most, but those who will grow old with you, and who will push you to become a better person with time.

Sometimes walking away doesn’t mean you don’t care; it means you’re wise enough to see that some people only change once you leave them. Like Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going”—which is what I did, and on the other side I found paradise.

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