Surviving a Narcissistic Parent
Surviving a Narcissistic Parent with special guest Charity Buhrow. Charity talks about growing up with a narcissistic mom and tips for help.
Kristina: Welcome parents to The Impactful Parent’s Inspire and Learn Series, where real parents come on and tell their stories of inspiration and learning. Because a wise man learns from his mistakes, but a wiser man learns from other people’s mistakes. So let’s learn today from our guest speaker Charity Buhrow. Charity is going to talk to us today about surviving a narcissistic parent.
Charity: Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
Kristina: I’m sure there is a journey that has gotten you to this place, and I know it’s probably a really long story for you, but I really would like to hear how you grew up.
Charity: As a kid, we lived in a rural area of Wisconsin. Great childhood, when I look back on it. When I was little, we had go-karts and swimming pools. We lived out in the country, and we rode bikes to go hang out with the friends. As I got older, around eight or nine years old, my mom told me, “I’m your mom first. But we have the potential to be best friends. I want you to tell me everything in anything.” Ideal, right? But as I got older, things changed slowly. It was confusing. I would share things with her that were super intimate, but then it would get thrown back in my face. It would throw me off. Self-doubt started to set at a very, very young age. And it was so subtle.
There was a time where she bought me a diary. She told me I can keep all my intimate thoughts in that diary and the diary even had a lock on it. She told me that I don’t have to worry about anyone breaking in and reading my personal information. Then one day, she started answering my passages of writing. I was like, “Whoa, wait, what?” She would write things back to me like, “You’re ungrateful. Maybe if you had not acted like that, I wouldn’t have needed to yell.” She completely violated my trust on such a deep level. It was at that moment that distrust started.
Another example is math. I loved math. My mom told me, “You’re so bad at it. You’re stupid.” That was confusing to me because I had As in school, and my teachers told me I was doing a great job. Later, as a young adult, I ended up in accounting. I kept asking myself, “Why do I have this job? I’m horrible at math.” I didn’t realize that was residual from her trauma. I was actually thriving at that job. Later, I quit.
There are more subtle examples. I was really thin growing up. I was a very tall blonde. Many people told me I should model, but my mom didn’t want me to be seen as the center of attention. She told me that because I was blonde, no one would take me seriously. In reality, I am smart! All of this was so hurtful coming from my mom.
Everything was always about her. She would buy my clothes and dress me but tell me not to tell my dad. She encouraged me to lie to my dad! That was a struggle! He was the primary moneymaker, and I liked my dad. It was hard to lie.
On the outside, we looked like an ideal family. My friends never believed me. They never saw the bad stuff. My hair and makeup always had to be done. I would tell her, “Mom, I have this opportunity.” She would respond, “No, you can’t do it. I don’t want them looking at you. I don’t want them to judge me based on you.” She was also paranoid about others. She told me not to ever talk about money outside of the house. Mom said, “They’re trying to take our money.” I was confused.
My grandparents lived five doors down from us. I really wanted to have a relationship with them because they were so close. I would ask to go visit them, and she would tell me, “No, no, no, no, no! They’re spying on us. They break into our house. You can’t talk to them. They hate me.” You see, it was always about her.
She got a part-time job one time at one of the local taverns. People loved her great personality. But she came home one day, and all her friends turned on her. They finally saw through her lies and deception. Then it really started to spiral downhill pretty quick. She started videotaping the neighbors. She would watch the videos and be like, “Look what they’re doing. I can’t believe they’re doing that.” She also stopped taking me to dance class and blamed it on my dad. I love dance class. He wanted us to be active, but she wouldn’t admit that she didn’t like taking the time out of her day to drive me back and forth from dance.
Eventually, I realized that my self-esteem had plummeted. By the time I was 19 years old, I was terrified of judgment and thought everyone was out to get me. I didn’t think I’d ever make anything of myself. I didn’t even go to college because she told me she would only help me pay for school if I went to her school of choice and studied what she wanted me to study. She also told me I was never going to make it. One day, she even spent all the money in my saving that I had saved from work. I was desperate, so I moved out as soon as I could.
Kristina: I get this feeling that you felt like a puppet.
Kristina: If someone hearing your story right now thinks they might be victims of a narcissistic parent, but they still aren’t quite sure, how would you tell them it feels? What other adjectives could you give to how that felt?
Charity: Confusion is a big thing. It is an emotional roller coaster. One minute you feel love; the next, you are full of shame. You feel responsible for their suffering and their pain. It’s very disheartening. You beat yourself up for it.
Kristina: What are some red flags?
Charity: They were everywhere! Now I see them, but then it was mainly a deep unsettled feeling. The confusion is big. I would tell someone that it is a sign when their parent gives you this bad feeling repetitively. You’re always being blamed, and they are never at fault. You’re going to start feeling crazy. Like you are the problem.
Kristina: I can see that one of the hardest things about this as a child would be, wanting to get help from somebody, but knowing that whoever you talk to, they’re not going to believe you. Your mom is just too likable!
Charity: Yes. Oh, that is a big one. That’s a huge one. I ran into that roadblock. I would go to someone, and I would explain what was going on. They would tell me I was being hypersensitive. Five years later, many came back and apologized. I would tell others that you need to keep going until you find someone willing to listen. After a while, you burnt out if no one hears you. I thought, “I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to deal with this. I don’t want to have to explain this to another person yet again, just to be shot down.” You start to doubt yourself a lot, and you start to feel like you’re crazy.
Kristina: What was your ‘A-ha’ moment that made you realize you needed help?
Charity: My first marriage. When I graduated, I moved out three days after graduation, I could not get out of that house fast enough.
My mom kept trying to come over to my new home. She criticized everything. The dishes weren’t done, the decorating wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t clean enough… That was MY space! I didn’t need her opinions. I told her to go home several times. Then I stopped going over to her house too. I started to notice that I felt better the more I pulled away.
Then I met a guy. We decided we wanted to have kids, but something just didn’t sit right. I got pregnant anyway, and we got married because I panicked. I didn’t want my kids to grow up being ridiculed like I was for having parents with different last names. Then I had my daughter. I was holding her in my arms, and I looked over him and thought, “What did I do?” That was my aha moment! That’s when I realized I had married a person just like my mom. Oh, crap! I realized I had a couple choices. I can let this make me really bitter and really unhappy and stay stuck, OR I can use this as a stepping stone to get better.
Kristina: What are those first steps to recovery?
Charity: Recognize that you are not at fault. The second step is to find a doctor.
I found a primary care physician. She was fantastic. It took me nine tries to find her, but when I found her, I knew that she would listen to me. She was absolutely amazing. I had thrown off my back, had two young children. My fibroid was all over the board. I was a hot mess. I was replaying my childhood with my new husband and blown away by how similar it was. He kept telling me I was crazy and needed drugs. I walked into the doctor’s office crying. Fortunately, the doctor saw past my physical pain to my emotional pain and encouraged me to see a counselor.
Find someone you trust and find someone you’re comfortable with to support you and help you dissect your pain. It doesn’t have to be a counselor. It can also be a coach. Find someone and get help.
Kristina: You have so much to offer with your experiences to help empower others.
Charity: It took a few years, but I finally came to peace with my mom. I realize now that my mom didn’t know what she was doing. She didn’t set out to purposely harm me. Her behaviors were stemmed from how she was raised. I don’t hold ill will. My experiences have taught me how to be a good mom. I can’t help but feel grateful for what I have been through. It made me who I am today.
Kristina: It feels like you have healed, and it is great to hear you don’t have resentment toward your mother. If people resonate with your story today and want to reach out and learn more from you, how would they do that?
Charity: The best way to get a hold of me would be my website is www.rzempowerment.com
Kristina: Thank you, Charity! It was a pleasure to have you on the show.
And until next time, you got this parents. We’re just here to help!
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Surviving a Narcissistic Parent