spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
PictureMy mother's resting place / Alison R.
Were she still alive, my mother would have had a birthday May 24. When she died several years ago at the age of 96, I took her ashes and mixed them in the soil of her favorite potted plant, an amaryllis she kept on the patio near the window of her family room in Southern California. I carted that plant to my place in San Francisco, and it blooms each year on the patio where I can see it.

I tend that plant with splendid red flowers and only by being a narcissus rather than an amaryllis could it be a more apt metaphor for my work as my mother’s daughter. It has taken most of my lifetime to separate from my mother, whom I resemble, and to accept my mother’s limitations—her inability to love me. I can finally appreciate that she was a colorblind mom, and I was a rainbow she couldn’t see.

Even after I “grew up,” the filters through which I viewed life, the strategies I employed to cope influenced how I related to other people. I was that unloved and thus unlovable child of a narcissist. I experienced others as incapable of loving me, someone like my mother, to be placated and resisted. Others were probably not even aware of the role in which I had cast them.

I still can experience twinges that come from being my mother’s daughter. Sometimes while talking with people who matter to me, I feel a familiar pain. It happens if others don’t ask me more about what I am saying, but instead switch to talking about themselves. It’s as if the conversation is a competition I will lose.

It’s easy to slip back into being the daughter of a narcissistic mother. She always wanted to talk about herself rather than listen. She was proud of me only if what I did or said reflected on her as a “good mother.”  She cared about my appearance and spent money to make her little girl look just right. My mother insisted that her outlook and emotions mattered more than mine and if I had a different viewpoint or feeling, she would make sure I knew that by opposing her I was causing her physical pain and suffering.

Mothers like mine, who can’t see beyond their own needs, bind their daughters to them by withholding love and insisting on unquestioning attention and love. So yes, it has been difficult to separate from my mother. Even after her death. Difficult, but not impossible.

After more than 50 years of effort, I am now peaceful with what was. I accept my narcissistic mother and being her daughter. I have compassion for us both. I can grieve for my childhood, for not being loved unconditionally by my mother or father. (Husbands to narcissistic women love them most of all and don’t cross them, so children have no protectors.)

I doubt without therapist Jennifer or meditation or Kate’s friendship in Buddhism, I would have grappled with the past, done the necessary grieving, or seen clearly the emotional patterns that developed in me because I was daughter to a narcissistic mother. I joyously acknowledge becoming a warrior with the courage to heal. And I know the answers to lifelong questions: Why do I feel unlovable? Why do I never feel good enough? Why do I have so little trust in myself?

Not only do I experience and express unconditional love for my sons, but for other significant people in my life as well, my sister, my girlfriend Corky. I can feel unconditional friendliness even for people I don’t particularly like or know. So clearly, this healing has not been just about me.

My self-acceptance can’t help but become acceptance for others. The same way I end my meditation sittings, by dedicating the merits of my practice to the peace, safety and happiness of all beings, I dedicate my healing from daughter of narcissistic mother to the peace, safety and happiness of all beings. May I strive always to cause no harm and to be wholehearted!!  

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