I had to heal from Stockholm Syndrome before I realized that my narcissistic mother’s lies and omissions were harmful. For a long time, I thought my mom was simply uneducated, had no time to discuss important topics, and was even just a little endearingly daft.
It took me a long time to realize that these lies were yet another facet of narcissistic abuse.
The Red Cross defines “child abuse” as any action that results in physical or emotional damage. Check. This can happen through neglect (check), lack of proper hygiene (check), and lack of appropriate education (check).
Remember too, that narcissists lie. They tell lies of commission (telling misinformation) as well as lies of omission (leaving out important information).
Rewind to my childhood:
I thought it was normal that my mom didn’t have conversations with me about my changing body. When I started sprouting breasts, it was my oldest brother’s girlfriend who admonished my mom to purchase me some bras to conceal my overly-obvious nipples. When I started experiencing body odour, it was again my brother’s girlfriend who told my mom to buy me some deoderant so I wouldn’t stink. I often cringe thinking about little girl Sarah, going to school with nipples showing and reeking of body odour.
I thought it was normal that we never used proper body terms. When I was around age 7, I recall seeing our dog’s penis sticking out one day, and asking what it was. My mom replied, “Oh, was his little red wagon sticking out?” We used colloquialisms for anything related to genitals; I learned that there was something inherently shameful about those particular body parts if we weren’t even supposed to say those words. I didn’t know until I was an adult how much that one detail increased my risk of being sexually abused as a child, and how much it would help me talk about it properly (and have a proper testimony) if it had ever happened. Never mind to have a healthy body image and proper view of sex and reproduction.
I thought it was normal that I didn’t know about the menstrual cycle until I explored the plastic-wrapped packages I’d see in the garbage every so often. I was alarmed to see that someone had been bleeding, and was old enough to have already been in the know about changes my own body would undergo in not too long. Years into having my period, I had to explore tampons on my own, as my mom had never offered them as a more comfortable and discrete option.
I thought it was normal that my parents never taught me about sex. I vividly remember figuring out what the sex act was, when I overheard a rape victim describe her rape in detail on the evening news. I recall the shock I felt as I heard her describe her perpetrator forcing his penis inside of her. I remember being frozen in time, hearing this information, and in this manner. My heart beat and the words rang in my ears as I processed what I had just heard. I should never had had my first knowledge of sex come in the context of rape.
I thought it was normal that my mom told me misinformation about topics she didn’t want to discuss. I’ll never forget the time I was in grade 6 and inquired about how a person contracted AIDS. With her own agenda in mind, as always, she flipped off a quick reply to my query: “By having sex with more than one person”. I knew not to press, but held that information inside of me and wrongly trusted that my mom was telling the truth. I also remember when my good friend told me later that year that her mom was pregnant; I knew her mom was with someone other than my friend’s dad, so I replied in concern: “But now your mom has AIDS!” She laughed at me, and told me how ridiculous that statement was. My cheeks burned in embarrassment, and felt such anger at my mom for setting me up like that. I should have known the truth.
I thought it was normal for my mom to tell me I needed to wash better because she had seen the slightest amount of vaginal discharge in my underwear as a teenager. I showered daily, but figured I wasn’t doing a good enough job. I remember washing obsessively, thinking I was dirty and gross, and feeling ashamed for my body doing something that was, in fact, perfectly normal. I felt shame over a bodily function that God designed us to have, because my mom had again given me misinformation. It wasn’t until my adult years, when I began exploring natural birth control methods, that I realized that cervical mucus was normal and a sign of a healthy body; it was part of how God designed women. Instead, I lived for years in shame with the lie that I was dirty and abnormal.
I thought it was normal for my mom to include nothing more in my sex education than “don’t have it”. (And at this point she still hadn’t officially discussed anything about human reproduction with me). She was adamant that I just don’t have sex until married, but never expanded more on it. I was never given a healthy view on what sex was, how to enjoy it safely, how wonderful it is in the context of marriage, and that it was a good thing.
I thought this was all normal.
I thought it was just mom being mom. Haha, she’s so funny and clueless. Oh, mom.
As a younger adult, I laughed about these stories with my siblings, and about their own similar stories.
It’s just mom.
But the I realized that no, it’s not. It’s abuse.
It’s abuse to fail to provide proper hygiene from a child.
It’s abuse to lie, omit information, or give false information.
It’s abuse deny proper sexual education for a child.
It’s abuse to set up a child for embarrassment and shame, and to go into adolescence and adulthood not knowing basic information about our bodies and reproduction.
So no, it wasn’t just mom being cute. It wasn’t just mom being embarrassed.
It was mom being selfish. It was mom neglecting. It was mom breaching trust. It was mom doing damage. It was my mom emotionally abusing.
And it was not okay.
It has taken years to reshape those topics in my mind. Years of seeking truth to replace the lies. Years to realize that this was yet another facet of the dysfunction and abuse.
But I’ve also discovered I am not alone. Recently, in a Facebook support group, the topic came up on the absurd lies that narcissistic mothers have told. I was shocked to see that that VAST majority of them were related to sex and reproduction. What I experienced was very common, and there is extreme comfort in that.
So if that was also you, I want to affirm you by saying that it was wrong that you were not taught properly. It was wrong that you were lied to, that you were given misinformation or no information, and that you went into your teen and adult years ill-equipped. It was wrong that you started your adult life with so much wounding in this area, and so much falsehood to undo. It was wrong.
We needed our moms to teach and guide us. We needed our moms to tell us the truth, to be open and honest, and to be the source of information that we could trust. We needed our moms to be the safe place we could go to talk to about sex and puberty. We needed to have a healthy view of sex, not a distorted one based on lies. We needed so much more.
Thankfully, God is in the business of redemption, and He can redeem this too. You are not alone. I am not alone.