Personality Disorder Mother Home for a Visit

Reader’s Question

I am an only child. My mother had puerperal psychosis after I was born, was admitted to a mental health unit and received ECT. She was discharged to look after me after 6 months. Then I had a NAI fractured femur but my father never did anything to help. I think she has some sort of personality disorder — most likely Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as far as I can tell. I became an MD to try and work out who this woman was and how I could help her and why she has been so cruel to me. However I’ve never really found the answers. Apparently, according to my father, she was sexually abused by her father, but that could just be one of her lies. Currently I am a mother of two beautiful boys. The problem is that she, and my father, are in my house for 10 days. I invited them. I want to have a “normal” relationship with them and I am too forgiving or foolish, I am not sure which. I invited them to help me while my husband is away on business. My father is deeply depressed: he sleeps all day, overeats and is always irritable and complaining. He suffers chronic pain. But boy does he get a lot of expensive gifts. That must be why he stays.

My mother said she was ready to be a grandmother now and wanted to get to know my children, who are aged 18 months and 3 and a half. But I regret it and I feel sick in my stomach all the time. My mother uses any information that you give her to try and destroy you and your relationships… She cannot remember/denies kicking and kicking me in the stomach until I urinated on the floor, chasing me around the house calling me a selfish little bitch, which she did on a daily basis, beating me relentlessly around the ears. I was completely scared of her, all the time, and would keep to my room and study my books to avoid her.

I have been walking on eggshells whilst she is in my home for fear she will have one of her rages if I criticise or don’t agree. She is commanding the fort and now telling me how I should be raising my children and that I am not disciplining the older one. She has shouted at him in his ear with her horrible shrill voice. My father has dragged him along by one arm when he wouldn’t get dressed, then yanked his dry nite pant up his bottom crack to deliberately hurt him. I am terrified she will harm my children. She is acting like she has never hurt or harmed anyone, when I spent years obtaining psychiatric help to get over my terribly low self esteem and my subsequent depression. She drops horrid things into the conversation such as “I was a TERRRRRRRIBLE mother to you of course, and you’re lucky to be alive, but I am now ready to be their mother.” You aren’t a mother to the boys,” I said. “You are their grandmother”.

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“But oh I want to be a mother now. I would have children now if I could”. She says. Which seems very strange coming from a 65-year-old. She tells me that she is watching and observing my children because it is so interesting. She has grandiose ideas that she is some sort of psychoanalyst and can psychoanalyse my children, and understand their thinking. From what I understand children’s minds aren’t that developed that they can be manipulative and deliberately naughty; which is what she tells me. My children are innocent.

She has booked herself for a $15,000 face lift on Thursday because she says she needs to look like a mother, and because “I can be a bitch and not give you any of my money for your son’s education if I want to”. I have not actually asked her for any money for anything.

She is cleaning the house, and doing loads of continuous washing and making a point of it…and preparing elaborate meals for herself and my father, but they are of little use to my children, as they are too young to eat anything other than simple food. But she knows that they cannot eat these meals so she sits and eats with my father, whilst I rush about having to prepare a second meal for my children.

I am doing my very best to avoid any confrontation and my children seem to have warmed to her, but I feel very uncomfortable and scared she will hurt my children now that she is in my home. My father spends all day sleeping and he is also conveniently very deaf and refuses to wear a hearing aide so that he would never come to the rescue in a bad situation. He never came to my rescue when I was a child and he denies that she ever did anything to me when I have confronted him, so I guess I should never expect things to change. I feel so confused — on the one hand my children seem to have accepted her, but on the other hand I am really concerned.

I feel sorry for my parents as they have no friends whatsoever. They run a bed and breakfast and have guests for a maximum of 3 days at a time, so they can put on a grandiose and falsely pleasant act for these guests. The guests are their only contact with the outside world, apart from me.

However, I don’t think I want this. But perhaps I am being too harsh and unreasonable and I should be giving her/them a chance. I tell my oldest boy that I love him more than all the stars in the sky, because I love him so very very much that words cannot express it; and also because he is still having some problems adjusting to having a little brother. This is my special thing I say to my child. I absolutely love being their mother. Then yesterday my mother said to him “I love you more than the moon”. It made me feel sick in my stomach because she copied me, and more importantly she does not know how to love. And I don’t think she has ever experienced it.

I hope you can find time to reply to my email. I feel torn about what is right.

Psychologist’s Reply

As a physician, you know that some disorders/conditions can be treated and cured…and some can only be managed or stabilized. As you describe your mother, you are describing a Personality Disorder. (See my article on personality disorders in relationships.) The diagnosis of Histrionic Personality Disorder is probably the best fit.

Everything you mention in your question is “textbook” personality disorder, including:

  • a totally selfish view of all situations,
  • denial of responsibility for their behavior,
  • lies and deceptions,
  • self-justifying abusive behavior,
  • little or no concern for the rights of others,
  • superficial affection,
  • extremely manipulative,
  • intimidation of others through temper tantrums, etc.

Your love, attempts to understand, compassion, and providing opportunities for a healthy relationship will have no impact on your mother. If we place a shark in our family pool, loving it won’t protect us from it.

From her standpoint, the visitation is another opportunity for her to exercise control over someone and in this case, another family. Within a short time, as you’ve seen, she will not only take over your home, but set up a foundation for her to become the primary adult, caregiver, and authority in the home. Sadly, she really doesn’t care what you think about it. This is life with a personality disorder in the family.

Your father has developed strategies for living with your mother — defective strategies, but nonetheless managing his marriage. He too is walking on eggshells, so he will not come to your defense or to the aide of the children. In fact, if he doesn’t support her inappropriate behaviors, he will become a target for her anger.

Bottom line: You need to manage her while she’s in your home and protect yourself and your family. Trying to gain an understanding, an apology, an acceptance of her past behavior, etc. will not happen. Your mother isn’t interested in your agenda at all — only hers!

While she is in your home, you will be tormented and terrorized by Emotional Memories (EM). Your years of abuse in her custody created thousands of Emotional Memories. These EM create the nausea, fear, etc. you experience when you remember what she’s done in the past or see a reminder of her behavior in her visit. While your schooling has increased your abilities, it hasn’t erased those emotional memories, which are alive and well as you now experience.

For a long range plan, you’ll need to keep your mother at an emotional distance. Limit and control contacts with her. Emphasize managing her and her visits/contacts rather than fixing the situation. While she threatens to be the “new mother” to the children, that takes maternal instinct and placing the needs of the children above the mother’s needs. Your mother doesn’t have those characteristics. You might want to read some of the other questions on this site regarding personality disorders, as your situation is not uncommon. [Editor’s Note: Just click on the ‘personality disorders’ tag at the end of this reply or in the sidebar to see all questions about personality disorders.]

You are not being too harsh or unreasonable…you are being a protective parent and mother. At some point you may need to be harsh with your mother, especially if her abusive comments and behavior continue. When that happens, allow her to become upset and leave…that’s in your best interests. Remember that your mother is the “queen of drama” personality, so you can expect continued drama until she departs. Once that happens, make arrangements to visit her in the future — for short visits only. All of your concerns, apprehensions, and reactions are valid. The Emotional Memories of your past abuse, neglect, disrespect, intimidation, etc. are causing you to question yourself as your mother has always blamed you for anything that happened in the family. You are viewing the situation accurately…now you need a strategy to avoid getting bitten while the shark is in the pool.

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