The Narcissistic Mother: Sex, Lies, and Misinformation

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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.

 

Please Stop Telling Adopted People to be Thankful – and 9 Reasons We Don’t Need to Be

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As an adopted child, I’ve heard every ridiculous comment about adoption you can think of.  My whole life, I’ve had to navigate awkward conversations, questions I didn’t have answers for, being called names like “bastard”, and being asked why my mom didn’t want me.

But the worst one?  The most cutting one?  When people tell me I should be thankful.

Recently I had two family members on different occasions rebuke me for speaking out about my lack of intimate relationship with my mom.  One of their reasons they used to try to silence me?  I should “be more thankful” that my parents saved me.  Because, you know, adopting me was so selfless and sacrificial, and that should nullify any hurt or negative feelings I had or have.  I’m not showing my thankfulness very well if I am open and honest about my childhood.

But the sad thing is, this attitude isn’t just from family members who are upset about me sharing.  I’ve heard this same sentiment expressed from various places my whole life.

It’s an attitude that needs to stop.  It is hurtful and damaging to an area where there was already so much damage done.  Being adopted is a damn hard road for those of us who walk it, and we don’t need it to be any harder.

So here are 9 reasons why adoptees don’t need to be thankful:

1. Our lives began with major loss.

As adoptees, we experienced major loss at a very young age; we lost our mothers, our chance at a secure attachment, and often times we also lost a sibling or siblings.  Can you imagine as an adult losing all the people that matter most to you, in one foul swoop?  Never mind for that to happen when you were a vulnerable, innocent infant?  Can you imagine if someone were to take you away from everyone and everything you know, and put you in a group of strangers and told you this is where you’ll live now?

But we should be thankful for this?

2. We had to become someone else.

I don’t care who you are, your heritage and your genetics matter.  They are part of who you are.  As adoptees, all of that gets erased the minute we are adopted.  All of a sudden, we have to assume a new identity; we are often given a new name, a new family, a new heritage to take on as our own.  Often there is no more mention of our heritage or our family of origin.  Our genetic makeup, our geneology, and our cultural background is lost and forgotten, and we are given a replacement set of those things that we must accept and become.

But we should be thankful for this?

3. Information about our past is hidden or kept from us.

This one is not always the case, but in my case this is true, and for lots of others.  My adoptive parents knew that I had Indigenous and Scandinavian roots.  They knew I had an older sister.  They knew my birth mom had brown hair and brown eyes and had a small, slight frame (just like me), and they knew she had an aptitude for art and language (like I do too).  They knew my name was “Melissa Joan Carlson” when I was born.

That information belonged to me, not them.  Yet, they hid it from me.  I never got the privilege of knowing that my skills and talents were genetic, that I bore a striking resemblance to my mom, and that – above all – I had a sister somewhere out there.  Growing up with 5 older brothers, I always dreamed of having a sister.  But I was never allowed the right of knowing any of that.  I remember dreading the “Family Tree” unit that would come every year in school, because my true heritage was taken from me, and without apology.  I didn’t know where I came from, and that is an unsettling feeling.  Giving us a replacement family tree and a fake heritage doesn’t fix it.  We live like imposters being told who we are supposed to be.

But we should be thankful for this?

4. We often grow up in a culture of shame.

My parents hid the fact that I was adopted.  They did tell me, so I give them kudos for that at least.  But very few people beyond those that were around when I showed up at 15 months old ever knew I was adopted (and I attribute that amount of honesty to the fact that they had to explain my appearance somehow!).  And that’s the way they wanted it.  I was told it was better if people didn’t know; I would simply get hurt and people wouldn’t understand.  They said they were protecting me, but I know it was themselves they were protecting.  But I complied, trusting their word.  If people know I am adopted, they won’t like me.  Tell me – do you hide those things you’re proud of, or the things you’re ashamed of?  I didn’t have words to put to it, but it created a deep sense of shame within me to know it was a taboo subject.  If it was something to be hidden, it must be bad.  I must be bad.  I carried that burden for many, many years.

On top of that, I was never allowed to talk about it or ask questions even at home.  I remember having questions burning in my heart, but I knew they weren’t welcome.  In fact, even as an adult, my husband made the mistake of asking my parents what my original name had been – to which he received a sharp kick in the knee under the table from my brother, and an explanation afterwards that “we don’t talk about that”.  The indignant looks on my parents’ faces were a harsh reminder of the silencing and the psychological and emotional abuse I had endured growing up regarding my adoption.

But we should be thankful for this?  

5. Our birth mothers (where we come from) are often shed in bad light.

There is an assumption that if a woman gives up a child for adoption, they obviously weren’t fit to be a good mother.  And that assumption may be true in some situations, though certainly not all.  But to shed a child’s birth mother, where they came from, in a bad light is not only selfish, but damaging to a child’s identity.  How do you think it feels to have someone assume you came from a prostitute or a whore?  How do you think that affects the heart of a vulnerable child when you speak with disgust about the woman who bore the child you are now privileged to raise?  Growing up, I never once heard a positive word spoken about my birth mom.  Never once did we pray for her, talk about what a brave thing she did, or how much she might miss me.  We hardly talked about her at all, and the things that were said were hushed whispers about what a screw up she must have been.  Children aren’t idiots – when you talk about where we came from in that way, it affects them.

But we should be thankful for this?

6. Lots of adoptive parents lack the tools to deal with the issues an adopted child might face.

This is especially true, I think, for those adoptees who are now adults.  (I believe, and hope, these things have started to change.)  My parents had an attitude that they would just bring me home, raise me like my brothers, and all would turn out fine.  They never sought out courses on parenting adopted children, on attachment issues, or reached out for help or counsel in any capacity.  In fact, I would even say there was an arrogance displayed there; an attitude of knowing how to raise kids already, because they had done this 5 times before.  I was expected to just adapt, and to never have issues.  But I did have issues; of course I did!  My birth mom had given me up, I had spent time bouncing around foster homes, I was neglected and physically sick for that time, I probably had trauma behaviours, and I was suddenly put in a family and expected to simply adapt.

And on top of all of that, I knew I was not to bring any of it up.  That hole in my heart was never given a voice; it just continued festering through my childhood, until I finally was able to seek help and healing once I was outside of my parents’ care.  So when people say, “but they did the best they could”, I don’t really agree.  And if that really was the best, it doesn’t mean it was good enough.  And it doesn’t mean they did right by me.  And it doesn’t mean I came out unscathed.  They never sought help, asked for support, read parenting books, or even admitted they didn’t know what they were doing raising an adopted child.

But we should be thankful for this?

7. Our adoptive parents are made out to be selfless saints.

Let’s face it – how good do you feel when you are the subject of pity?  How wanted would you feel if someone asked you out on a date and then told it they did it as a humanitarian effort?  As adopted children, we are often made out to be some charity case, and that is not okay.  Adopted parents wanted children, just like biological parents did.  No one fawns over a biological parent and tells that what a selfless act it was to procreate and bring a child into the world who wouldn’t have been otherwise.  So why would we do that to a adoptive parent?  People do it because adopted children are made out to be unwanted; praising adoptive parents perpetuates this attitude.  (And an even worse step is, “Oh, good for you.  But I could never do it.”  I won’t even touch on that one.)

Another sad reality is that a lot of children are being adopted by the very people who are looking for this attention.  Healthy parents are always looking to pour out of themselves into their children, and aren’t looking to get something back.  Often times, with adoption, a mother (or father, but often it’s the mother) adopts to fill a need.  (In my case, it was a need for a daughter, but it can also be a need to look good in the public eye, or to seek praise or recognition.)  Right from the get-go, this is a dangerous situation; it was never my job to fill a need for my mom.  But not only was I supposed to fill a need, and be the perfect little princess for her (my identity was taken away and I was made to be who she wanted me to be), but she gets praised for being a selfless saint for adopting me.  So this act that appears so selfless to some people, is actually the opposite, and creates further damage to the heart of the adopted child.

But we should be thankful for this?  

8. I would still exist if I hadn’t have been adopted.

The truth is, if my family wouldn’t have adopted me, another family would have.  Perhaps even a family that was healthier!  Of course, maybe a family that was more dysfunctional could have adopted me.  We’ll never know.  But the point is, I still would have had life without my adoptive parents “saving me”.  Biological children don’t feel the need to thank their parents for conceiving them, do they?  For “saving” them from the plight of non-existence?  Are biological children told they should be thankful their parents had some hot sex that one night and got pregnant with them?  No!  And in fact, if any child should be thankful, it’s the one who wouldn’t even exist unless their parents had fornicated at that exact moment.  I don’t go around telling people to remember to be grateful their dad and mom had intercourse and his sperm fertilized her egg, because they wouldn’t be here without that.  That’s ridiculous.  It’s just as ridiculous for anyone to expect an adopted child to live in a forever state of gratitude because someone took pity on them.

But we should be thankful for this?

9. We are talked about like we are stray dogs that someone took in.

One common theme that runs through all of these points, is that they all come from an attitude that adopted children are unwanted.  No one sees adoption as a humanitarian effort unless you see it through the lens of “nice family takes in poor, unwanted child”.  If we were to see it as, “family gets privilege of raising and learning from this child, and growing into a mutual love and bond” (and I’ve seen this attitude in adoptive families, so I know it exists), people wouldn’t say these things and hold these attitudes.  It doesn’t feel good to be looked at this way, especially when we already have other heart issues to work with.  Don’t add to it.

But we should be thankful for all of this?

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Please stop telling us to be thankful.

We shouldn’t be pressured into being thankful for things that non-adopted kids aren’t pressured into being thankful for.

And for the record: I’m not thankful that I was placed in a home that not only didn’t recognize my unique needs, but ignored them and then used them against me when I did start speaking up.  I’m not thankful that my being adopted is used as a means to manipulate me into allowing poor treatment of myself and my family, and then to silence me about it.  I’m not thankful that I am told that putting up healthy boundaries isn’t showing gratitude like I should be.

So no – I’m not thankful for any of that.

But you know what I am thankful for?

I’m thankful that in the midst of brokenness, God was there.  And still is.

I’m thankful that it was never His plan for me to be hurt or damaged.

I’m thankful that He had a will and a way for my heart to be healed, and that he put people in my life who support that path.

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to find ME – the real me.  I’m thankful to discover my heritage, my past, and my birth siblings.  I’m thankful for the parts of me that have been woken up, and to see how much genetics do play a part in who we are.  I’m thankful that after years of missing this, I now have people in my life who are related to me by blood, and that we can compare looks and mannerisms and quirks.  I never had that growing up.  I am thankful for it!

I’m thankful that my brokenness as a child has helped me become the mom that I am.  I am thankful for the redemption I’ve found in parenting, that I can be the mother I never had.  Sure, I make mistakes, but I am thankful I learned to hear my kids, validate their feelings, own what I’ve done, and ask for forgiveness.  I am thankful I am able to do for them what my little heart screamed for as a child.

I am thankful when I see adoptive families who do this differently.  I find hope to see adopted kids’ needs be acknowledged and met.  I am thankful to see adoptive parents seek support and knowledge, and put their kids’ well-beings above their need to be praised or thanked.

I am thankful for a husband who has loved and accepted me in my mess.  Who has held me as I’ve cried.  Who’s listened for hours when I’ve had revelations about the past, or pulled back a new layer of my heart.  Who has bore the most brunt of my woundedness, but loved me anyways.  Who is on the same page as me and wants to grow as a person too.

And you know what?  I am thankful for my adoptive family.  I’m not thankful for the reasons I’ve been told I need to be, but I am thankful.  God turns all things for good, and He has certainly kept His promise.

Lastly, I’m thankful to have found my voice and courage to speak up, even in the face of pressure to stay silent and keep things hidden, so that others can hear the truth and find support and freedom we all need.  I would be even more thankful if I knew these words resonated with someone and helped them, which is what my heart truly is.

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Please feel free to share if this resonated with you,

or you feel someone would benefit from hearing this!

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* I suspect already this post will receive some heat, either to my face or behind my back.  I have been told that to speak out when you’re not reconciled with people involved is not okay.  Here are my thoughts on that:  1) Reconciliation only occurs when both parties will acknowledge and validate the others’ feelings, take responsibility for hurts both ways, ask for forgiveness, and then change future behaviour.  All of those things have to happen for true reconciliation to take place.  2) If the door has been open for that to happen, and it has not been walked through, it is no longer my responsibility.  My openness is my responsibility; I am not responsible to make other people open to this.  And truthfully, it may never happen, so my life needs to continue regardless.  3) I am not going to hinge the fate of my calling on someone else’s life choices.  4) These actions were wrong the moment they happened, not the moment I decided to share about them.  5) It is not my job to protect anyone, but it WAS their job to protect me, and that didn’t happen.   6) This is the most important one to me: I have been inspired, changed, challenged, renewed, healed, and encouraged by the stories other people have taken the courage to share.  A lot of those stories were shared in the absence of reconciliation (because then it would hinge on other people taking part), but in the presence of pure motives and a heart for those who would read it.  It is a risk, for sure.  But I’m diving in.  And above all, I care more about what God has called me to do, then what other people think.  I will not allow the enemy to shut my mouth to the things God has called me to open it about.  He is my refuge, even when the storm rages. 

The Heart Behind our Parenting Opinions – and Why It Matters

Today, with social media, it’s not uncommon to know another parent’s opinions but to know nothing of the heart behind it.  We read about other moms’ passions as we scroll past on our Facebook newsfeed, but the disconnection from her heart and her story makes her passions easy to dismiss and even easier to judge.

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Every parent has an area of passion when it comes to parenting; a mountain they are willing to die on, so to speak.

For some, it may be car seat safety.  For others, it could be limiting screen time.  Perhaps a friend of yours is adamant their children remain gluten-free, and maybe your neighbour down the way is equally as adamant that kids never climb slides.

Being a parent is very different today than it was 30 years ago when our parents were raising us; it’s not because they had less concerns, but because they didn’t have social media.  In those days, the only way you knew another mom’s opinions about parenting, was because she was someone who was present in your world; she was someone who you had over for coffee, or met through church, or had children at the same school as yours.  You heard her thoughts and ideas directly from her, and they were directly connected to her heart and her past experiences.   You knew and understood her and her experiences alongside knowing the parenting mountains she would die on.

Today, with social media, it’s not uncommon to know another parent’s opinions but to know nothing of the heart behind it.  Which, I believe, is why it’s so easy to get into the judgement game.  We all do it.

For example:  The thing I am probably the most passionate about when it comes to my parenting is what I am putting in my kids’ bodies.  Anyone who is friends with me on social media will know that I somewhat regularly share about current findings about what is good for our bodies and what isn’t, and I’m not a believer in conventional medicine.  But what you don’t know when you see my posts is the WHY behind my passion.

A few years ago, shortly after weaning my youngest child (she’s now 4), I had a major health crash.  I all of a sudden was hit with insane insomnia (and I never struggle with sleep), I had no appetite and lost weight, and just felt off.  The doctor shrugged and said I must have postpartum depression, because he couldn’t explain why an otherwise-healthy woman in child-bearing years would be experiencing these symptoms.  I told him I didn’t feel depressed or down, except maybe being concerned about why I was feeling this way.  I felt like this for a few months before seeking out some alternative health advice.  I was told I had a hormonal imbalance (they weren’t balancing themselves out after weaning) as well as lots of gut inflammation.  Long story short, I changed my diet (removed processed foods, decreased my gluten/dairy/sugar intake, and ate more whole foods), and felt great 6 months after the “crash”.  I’ve experienced first hand how food played a major role in both the cause of the terrible feeling, as well as the healing and recovery.  That’s a big reason I’m so passionate about what goes into our bodies.

Another “why” to my passion for healthy eating, is because shortly after my episode of not feeling well, we started noticing some strange behaviour in our one son.  He couldn’t walk more than a block without crying that his legs hurt.  He had no energy, was often grumpy, started developing allergies, and was completely insane if he had sugar.  I sought out medical advice just to cover my bases, but again – they had nothing to say about it.  This kid would have ended up on Ritalin if we had continued with that route.  Instead, we knew that outward symptoms are just a sign of inward issues.  And sure enough, with some help of a naturopath and some diet changes, we saw HUGE changes.  Other people saw the changes, too.  He started having energy.  He was calmer and happier.  He stopped wetting the bed.  His eyes were bright again.  All changes that came when we started taking crap out of his diet, and putting good stuff in.  His behaviour can still be affected by sugar and dyes, so we limit those as much as we can (but also let him be a kid as much as we can).  Anyone who has seen their child act like a drunken, angry fool simply because of what was put in his body has to start questioning if those things should be going into any of our bodies.  I sure did, anyways.

On the outside, maybe all you see is a health-obsessed mom who doesn’t know how to let her kids have some fun.  Maybe you roll your eyes because I don’t let my kids have Halloween candy, and you think I’m controlling.  Or maybe you think I’m ill-advised and jump on whatever health bandwagon comes my way.  It’s okay, you probably didn’t know my story.  Because we usually don’t, and so instead we judge.  We didn’t hear the story from our fellow mom as we sat on the park bench while our kids played; we read it as we scrolled past on our Facebook newsfeed, and the disconnection from another mom’s story makes her passions easy to dismiss and even easier to judge.

So here’s the thing I want to remember:  That mom that’s obsessed with car seat safety? Maybe she was in a car accident as a teenager.  That neighbour who never lets her kids watch movies? Maybe her only childhood memory of her mom is the back of her head while she watched daytime television all day.  That friend who won’t let her 10 year-old walk to the park alone?  Maybe she was sexually abused by her friend’s older brother under a playground structure when she was a child.  That mom from school who won’t let her kid touch food that’s not organic?  Maybe her dad died from a brain tumour and she can’t stand the thought of putting chemicals in her kids’ bodies.

And also, I want to be okay to own the reasons why my passions are what they are, but understand they don’t need to be other peoples’ passions.  I might be really adamant about limiting sugar, but you don’t need to be.  You might be really into keeping your child rear-facing until they’re 3, but I don’t need to be.

So even when I don’t hear the stories behind the passion, even if I might never know the “why” that drives it, I really want to learn to give grace.  I want live with the assumption that we all have reasons/experiences/beliefs that drive us to make the decisions we do as parents. And those things aren’t wrong, they’re just different.  I want to give more of this grace, and I’d like to receive it, too.  (But I’m pretty sure I know which of those needs to come first. 🙂 )

So what is your parenting “mountain” that maybe no one else understands?  And what is your “why”?