The revelations of the narcissistic tendencies of both our modern culture and my mother arrived close together. It seems that I needed to see the first to be able to see the second.
After decades of doing what I was told, checking all the boxes for a successful life — good degree, good job, good marriage, good body, good friends, good money — I was devastated to find I was not happy. None of these things made me happy. I became disillusioned, literally.
At first, I looked outwards, back at the culture whose standards I was trying to live up to. I began to question why I had all this money, all these beautiful conveniences if they did not make me happy. I began to wonder if I could spend my time and energy on things that filled me instead of feeling victimized. I began to experiment with letting go of some of these standards, in search of something deeper and more fulfilling. In search of something to fill the hole inside me.
At first the hole grew into a chasm — the distance between my similarly indoctrinated husband and I. He was not disillusioned, not questioning, not experimenting. We tried many times to bridge that chasm, until finally, I gave up. I could feel truth waiting for me further up the road, so I eventually let him go.
And that was when I began to see that it wasn’t just society that had indoctrinated me. My mother, my lifelong hero and closest friend, inexplicably began to gaslight me about ending my marriage.
One day she wondered aloud how I would be able to take care of myself without a man. She projected her own fears, her own disappointments onto me, without being able to see it, much less take responsibility for it. Once again I found myself feeling devastated. Disillusioned.
Wasn’t this the woman who had raised me to be independent and courageous? Who had herself made this same choice when she divorced my dad? Who still longed to make this choice for herself with my stepfather?
I began to distance myself from her as I found my own way, continuing to shed the beliefs I’d inherited from both society and her. I began then to examine my privilege, to realize that all that money had been accumulated at the expense of other humans and the planet. I saw that most of my relationships were shallow and transactional and I longed for deeper connection and community. I began to learn about the narcissism spectrum that we all exist on.
I could easily see the narcissistic tendency of our modern culture reflected in the hyper-focus on individualized desires at the expense of the collective. The unwillingness to see a bigger picture, to individually use less resources, to have a long term vs. short term view. To see that my needs are no more important than yours.
I realized that I could no longer participate in the systems that I’d once perpetuated. Taking more than I needed, without sacred reciprocity. I had already quit my corporate job, so I exited the stock market, bought land to create a regenerative farm, and began widening the lens of my perspective to include more and more beings in the more-than-human world. I tried to allow everyone to have their own journey, but my mother became more and more alarmed as I continued mine. Even as my fulfillment blossomed.
Something clicked in me one day during a phone conversation with her when I was explaining again the boundary I’d previously set in talking about my ex-husband, who had become her close friend. I realized in that moment that she didn’t care about my boundaries and would never honor them. I told her that I needed to take a break from our relationship for awhile to do some personal healing and I haven’t spoken to her since.
Revelations come when we are ready. I was finally ready to see the full extent of my mother’s narcissistic tendencies. A few days later while reading an article, I realized her limitations and deeper truths about the nature of my lifelong relationship with her. I saw the arc of my relationship with her with fresh eyes — how she has never seen me as a sovereign being-only as an extension of herself. How she is incapable of taking responsibility for manipulative behavior. How she is the product of unhealed trauma and unquestioned societal beliefs and I almost was too. I grieved the delusions of my childhood as well as the trauma that created this wounding in her. At least I am now aware of the wounding in me.
There is a common belief that pathological narcissism is incurable. The challenge in healing narcissism is that most narcissists don’t want to change. Their worldview is a protection mechanism against vulnerability. It protects them from feeling the pain of the consequences of their behaviors because they blame everyone else for them.
If this is true, it is unlikely that my mother will ever wake up and realize her deep self-absorption, that she will take responsibility for healing her wounding. And if this is true about my mother, then it might also be true for our collective culture. How do we wake up from a fatal dream when we do not even realize that we are dreaming?
I love my mother. But I can no longer participate in a relationship with her, just as I can no longer participate in the culture in which I was raised. I can only trust that by using my power to transform my individual participation, my own waking from the fatal dream, that I transform the dream of the collective.