BEL MOONEY: Is it time to walk away from my narcissistic, toxic mum?


Dear Bel,

My mother, nearly 85, has been having an affair for nearly 45 years. She stayed with Dad to keep the family together, but this caused many difficulties over the years. She let us know she loved Peter. My heart broke for our dad — a delightful, dear man respected and loved by everyone.

If we ever criticised Mum, Dad would suffer, so we kept quiet and she led two lives.

Dad killed himself in 2013. He’d suffered from anxiety, but seemed more relaxed while in the unit he was admitted to. However, he tried to end his life shortly before he was due to be sent home, thus extending his stay.

Once home, he succeeded in killing himself. When this happened, Mum sat in her chair (while he was still upstairs) saying ‘I’m a widow’ — with no trace of horror. I think she wanted to have her remaining years with Peter.

She kept the inquest date secret and we missed going. When I protested, she accused me of ‘banging on about it’ and ignored me for a while — a pattern that’s occurred for years. Question anything and you are the bad one.

Yet she is regarded as a wonderful woman who brings joy to everyone she meets. My sister and I have striven to keep the harmony over the years, but have not embraced mother’s boyfriend into our families. My brother has been more relaxed, but finds it very difficult and has less contact now.

Mum has told all her friends how we have snubbed Peter, not mentioning how long their affair has lasted. So we have been unfairly judged.

Now there is further punishment, as she has changed her will. I think that instead of the estate being divided between the three of us, she has divided it up to include grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and probably Peter’s family, too.

Mum would not enjoy us having any pleasure with more comfortable lives, as she has never found joy in our happiness, just jealousy.

I wish happiness for my own children — but that’s not how it was for us. She will never forgive us for not welcoming Peter, even telling people lies about things she says we have said.

Her obsession leaves us in a bleak place. Anyway, my question is, do you think it’s time to step back and try to stop walking on eggshells with this narcissistic lady?

JOANNA 

This week Bel advises a reader on her difficult life-long relationship with her mother 

As someone who has always believed in the institution of marriage for all good reasons (for individuals and for society), I admit that here is a case when it would surely have been better for your parents’ union to end.

Your mother led two lives — neither of which could have been happy. In trying to ‘keep the family together’, she sacrificed the mental health of her husband and doomed her three children to confusion and pain.

Perhaps she wanted to preserve the marriage for the sake of status, not love. This terrible story is a warning about living a lie — and a reminder that there are always consequences.

The way you are feeling right now, you could easily ‘step back’ and have little to do with the woman who gave birth to you, but whom you clearly hold responsible for your father’s death. Would it bother her?

Maybe not. I suspect she might just withdraw further into controlling lies about her family.

I certainly wouldn’t blame you at all for minimising your contact with this woman.

You call her ‘narcissistic’ and what you have revealed of her behaviour (some necessarily cut from your longer message) indicates that you are probably right.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

She must have been very angry that you have felt unable to embrace Peter into your families, her obsession with her long-term lover blinding her to the full of horror of your father taking his own life. The truth is, you think she was glad — and cannot forgive her.

Now she has used her will as another weapon against you. You haven’t asked about that (you might take legal advice) and I’m glad. Because the money is not really the issue, is it?

I suspect it’s the sense that this is yet another insult to your poor father, who made the original will with her. It sounds to me as if your mother has never been able or willing to give you and your siblings the kind of maternal support and love you longed for.

The saddest thing is when you say she never wished you happiness. Sometimes it is impossible to stick a plaster on such wounds. Then the best thing is indeed to step back and live your own life without the toxicity.

It’s hard — especially with a parent, and she will always be your mother. But stepping back is not the same as cutting off, is it? It just means you stop hurting yourself by expecting the person to change.

 I don’t like me or my life very much

Dear Bel,

I’m very concerned about my dark thoughts.

I’m 48, still living at home with my parents, with no job, no money and no savings. I haven’t worked for ten years and have endured three open-heart operations and a stroke, and have an aneurysm on my aorta, among other problems.

I won’t harp on about my health, as it will seem like I’m feeling sorry for myself.

But I just don’t like me or my life at all. My confidence is at an all-time low. I’m menopausal, but cannot take HRT, as I have a mechanical heart valve.

I have hardly any friends and my boyfriend of three years left me last year for a younger model. We didn’t live together but I loved him — and do still, very much.

Please don’t give me tips on how to forget him, as I don’t want to since he is a part of me. I have nothing worth living for, but his memory makes me not feel so alone.

I long for the love between us. Mum (to whom I’m extremely close) says that he ‘killed’ me, as he ghosted and blocked me.

I could easily take my own life. I only stay for my mother as I couldn’t hurt her. But in a way I wish she wasn’t here so I could leave this ‘life’ too. As James Stewart said in It’s A Wonderful Life, I just wish I’d never been born. This lockdown horror has just served to top it all.

I tried writing to my ex telling him I still love him, but he rejected it/me. I can’t really blame him, as I have always looked at life through sad eyes and maybe I got too much for him.

I’m ashamed of this letter. Advice columnists say, ‘Find something to cling to’ — but I have nothing.

Hannah 

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Frankly, it’s impossible to read this without feeling very anxious about you, and so I must urge you to seek help as soon as possible. When you feel that life is not worth living, don’t hesitate to call the Samaritans (day or night, for free) on 116 123. They also have an email service: jo@samaritans.org — although, of course, that takes longer.

You have multiple health problems to deal with, plus the menopause, plus a broken heart — and as if that were not enough, it’s clear that you have a personality prone to melancholy.

In itself that is not unusual; the idea that everybody can and should be ‘happy’ is a modern delusion which does little to help people cultivate that all-important resilience which enables us to cope with normal sadness and disappointment.

But at the moment things feel much worse (as you say) for millions of people because of the virus and lockdown. You sound as if you are suffering from very real depression, which is why I ask you to badger your GP for an appointment as soon as possible.

See also this website: www.nhs.uk/ service-search/find-a-psychological-therapies-service. Look also at www.welldoing.org and www.bacp.co.uk.

Do you have the will to try to help yourself? Can you see a future? You say you have ‘nothing’ to live for, and yet you love your mother and say you are staying alive for her sake.

That actually negates the bleakness of your last phrase — because you do cling to something. That relationship.

You live with both parents, and presumably they need you as much as you need them. That has to be a starting point.

What’s more, you have no idea whether or not you will find love again. You found the last chap relatively late in life — and, even though you’re still grieving the relationship, there is no reason why that shouldn’t happen again. But only if you decide to work to make yourself better.

It will be hard, but please take the first steps for your mother’s sake.

You say you’re sorry you were born, so I suggest starting a conversation with her about how she felt when she first held you in her arms.

What kind of little girl were you? Did you have a favourite toy as a baby? Find out those details, some of which might be funny, and understand that each one of us has played a role, through every breath we take, in the history of the universe.

You say you feel ‘dark’. But I wish you courage against the odds, to step forward into the light.

 And finally… we all have our faults, so be kind 

Recently, I’ve read a lot about the latest series of The Crown.

Perhaps you can’t wait for the latest dramatisation of the lives of our Royal Family.

I heard the early, historic episodes (with Claire Foy as the Queen) were excellent, but Olivia Colman as Elizabeth II? What a piece of sad — even insulting — miscasting.

Thought of the day 

Don’t go outside your house to see flowers,

My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.

Inside your body there are flowers.

One flower has a thousand petals.

Kabir (Indian mystic poet, 1440-1518)

As for watching the tragic Diana story unfold in fiction . . . no thank you. You might think I sound holier-than-thou (I’m not!) but I’ve no time for cheap gossip aimed at hurting living people.

In 2012, the excellent Meryl Streep won the Best Actress Oscar for portraying Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Oh, it was a good performance, if you relished a cruel impersonation of one of the most effective Prime Ministers of the 20th century, reduced to a friendless wreck with dementia.

Lady Thatcher was still alive. Yet she had no redress, no voice — and was shown no mercy. Nor were those who loved her.

At the time, in the cinema, I felt soiled by it. It was full of lies, as well as a gross invasion of somebody’s privacy. Oh, but when ‘creatives’ make TV or films, they can get away with murdering the truth.

That’s why I won’t be watching the Royal Family I love mimicked into monsters in The Crown.

You might wonder what all this has to do with an advice column.

Well, we live in an age made crass and callous by 24-hour news (true and ‘fake’) and social media, and there isn’t a day when some snide comment, some abuse, some vile insinuation (not about me, but about others) doesn’t horrify me.

Hurting people is a public sport — and this inevitably spills over into private life.

In problem letters, I notice an increase in confrontation and harsh judgment, while responses often lack any empathy.

As a sinner myself, I believe we grow by acknowledging our own faults and by realising that even the famous are human.

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