Becoming My Abusive Mother?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have for a long time believed my mother to be emotionally abusive. Recently after a fight with her, I began to google general characteristics of emotionlly abusive/narcissistic mothers, to reassure myself but I found several things that reminded me of my relationship with my 6-year-old little sister.

I often tell her, and myself, that I only want the best for her and that I want her to have the life I never had. I often buy her candies and toys because I feel like my parents give her even less attention than they did for me, but recently I’ve noticed that I’ve been telling her that I can’t buy certain things because they are too expensive. To reassert my point, I sometimes say things like “You don’t need that” or “You don’t really want that.”

I’m afraid that I’m manipulating my sister like my mother manipulates me. I’m also afraid that I am developing NPD because while I worry about spending too much money on her, I seem to have no problem spending money on myself, especially after a period of depression. I also noticed that I tend to give my sister my old things instead of buying new things and I’ve read that narcissists’ overly self-centered personalities cause them to give hand-me-downs to others and new things to themselves.

I like to think that I am being a good sister, but I’m afraid I’m just lying to my sister and myself. I just want to know how I can tell if my sister is affected by my recent behavior or not and how I can help her if she is.

A: With 12 years difference between you and your little sister, you are an important adult in her life. My guess is that she has always looked up to you. So, yes, how you behave towards her does affect her. Because you are so much older, you are a role model as well as a sister.

You are asking very, very good questions. At 18, you are at the age where you are sorting through your experiences and deciding what kind of person you want to be. You are trying out being generous and being selfish; being self-critical and self-forgiving; being manipulative and being indulgent. Although you could decide to be narcissistic, you have had the experience of being treated poorly by a narcissist so I don’t think you’ll go that route. But it is a choice. By looking clearly at what you are doing, you are taking an essential step in the right direction.

It’s wonderful that you buy your little sister treats but she doesn’t need those things as much as she needs your loving attention. A few minutes reading to her most nights or coloring with her or just chatting and snuggling will put more into her emotional bank than any candy bar ever could. How you give her your things matters more than the fact that they are old or new. Little sisters love to get jewelry and scarfs and things from big sisters when they feel they are being given something special that connects them to their hero.

Keep it positive. Give her attention and encouragement. You’ll find you get as much as you give from the relationship. It’s pretty wonderful to be seen as special through the eyes of a child. Meanwhile, keep asking those good questions and making good decisions for yourself. Your relationship with your sister is important for the two of you and it’s also important as a rehearsal for how you will be in realationships in general.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 7 Apr 2013

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2013). Becoming My Abusive Mother?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/04/07/becoming-my-abusive-mother/