I was raised in a household that revolved around my mother. She was a narcissist, someone who, according to Wendy Behary, director of the Cognitive Therapy Center of New Jersey and author of Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed is "often self-absorbed and preoccupied with a need to achieve the perfect image (recognition, status, or being envied) and have little or no capacity for listening, caring, or understanding the needs of others." My mom hasn't been formally diagnosed—few narcissists seek treatment or even recognize that they have a problem—but growing up, the signs were all around me.
For women, narcissism is often expressed through the status of their children and their "success" as a parent (think Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest, Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, and all those hovering pageant moms). Narcissism ranges from a personality trait, like extroversion or self-esteem, to full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Narcissists, says Keith Campbell, Ph.D., author of The Narcissism Epidemic, have levels of self-absorption, entitlement, distrust, perfection, grandiosity and emotional detachment that affect their functioning and last an extended period of time.
Even as a child, I sensed that my mother's behavior was inappropriate. I remember cringing when she'd put a hand on my shoulder and announced to friends that the reason she had kids was so she could have grandchildren.
I knew my mother was pretty far along on the narcissism spectrum, but I wasn't sure that I'd been all that damaged as a result. Until, that is, I reached page 118 of Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Karyl McBride, Ph.D. There it was, all laid out in front of me: the exact retelling of how my last relationship devolved and fell apart.