Angry at a Narcissistic Mother: Part Two

by Michelle Piper

When you carry anger due to a narcissistic mother, you are bound to have “highs and lows”.

One contributor to the “highs” is when you use your anger as energy to protect yourself or your loved ones from harm. One cause of the “lows”, however, is when the anger seems bottomless and out of control.

During the lows, you may feel your life is engulfed by anger–much like you once felt, or perhaps still feel, overwhelmed by your narcissistic mother.

One way to deal with the bad side of anger is to interrupt the stress response of fight, flight, or freeze. Decreasing toxic anger effects is done with a special form of breathing which will be explained below.

Many of us who grew up in a narcissistic family system are frustrated when asked to breathe in order to calm down. Our discomfort often shows up because we’ve learned only shallow breathing from the upper chest. Shallow breathing is necessary for a quick get away or to hide from danger.

Remember, growing up with a narcissistic mother put you in survival mode. Your response to a threat, then, was the instinctive fight, flight or freeze response. If stuck in a fight, flight or freeze mode due to our childhood challenges, we may not have received the benefits of deep breathing.

Fight allowed you to do battle, flight enabled you to retreat, and freeze helped you attempt to avoid negative attention, dissociate or hide. This instinctive stress response involves shallow breathing, is meant to be a short-term solution to an immediate danger and often associated with a response to trauma.

It makes sense, then, that breathing isn’t the first thing we think of to relax. Shallow breathing that feels only heart deep tends to raise the shoulders instead of using the diaphragm, a muscle designed to pull air deeply into the body, and only continues the stress response. Unfortunately, chronically breathing this way causes a feeling of being on guard and ready to spring to action, which can tire us out and make us irritable.

Instead, practice deep breathing otherwise known as diaphragmatic or belly breathing. Learn to redirect your breathing energy so you can move from surviving to thriving mode.

Deep breathing relaxes the body out of the primitive, reactive part of the fight, flight or freeze response mode and allows us to access the more advanced, proactive, strategic parts of our brain so that we can access wise mind or functional adult skills and capacities.

Breathe deeply, way down into your core. You should see your stomach push out to the world, as a drawer opening to fill with air. If you sit or stand in front of a full-length mirror, you should see the tummy go towards the mirror to take a breath in and push toward the spine to squeeze the air out. The shoulders should not move much at all. If they are, it is a sign you are practicing shallow breathing instead of deep breathing.

A great time to practice this one you’ve checked your form in the mirror is while waiting at a stoplight or in line. Practicing during times such as these has three benefits; you are using otherwise wasted time, you are reducing your stress response to waiting, and you are practicing a way to let go of negative feelings.

Part three of this article will cover another strategy helpful in reducing anger’s cost to you.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicki July 10, 2014 at 9:35 am

Hi Michelle.

Thank you for this post. I look forward to your sharing of more strategies/tools for healing from these experiences. Also can you write about how to forgive both your Nom and your Nad.

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Janet January 16, 2015 at 9:53 am

Hi Michelle,

I’ve never found a group I was comfortable opening up to about my mother, nor a therapist who could help me in as few words as you can. Your explanation of why deep breathing isn’t something I’m naturally inclined towards is the first to help me want to incorporate the technique into my daily living. And I’m a physical therapist who teaches the skill!

Thank you so much for giving this public forum/blog to us all and for sharing your understanding freely. I am deeply grateful.

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hanna January 26, 2015 at 10:43 am

Before I found this post I was already breathing really really deep haha so yes this is a good advice 🙂 I’ve read that anger is better than shame, hopelessness and depression but of course one wants to move away from anger when it’s time to do so.

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Nea March 13, 2015 at 2:40 pm

I literally LOLed when I read this part:
“Many of us who grew up in a narcissistic family system are frustrated when asked to breathe in order to calm down. Our discomfort often shows up because we’ve learned only shallow breathing from the upper chest. Shallow breathing is necessary for a quick get away or to hide from danger.”
SOOOOO incredibly true. I am always annoyed when people tell me to take deep breathe. Also explains why I hold my breath when I’m in pain and my doctor has to remind me to breathe all the time.

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Sandy April 21, 2015 at 10:10 am

Thank you so much for the deep breathing advice. I’ve been told this before but never understood why or what good it would do. Your explaination made sense to me, and I started to deep breath when I’m feeling anxious and overwhelmed. It works!!!! I’m grateful

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Suzanne June 30, 2015 at 8:46 am

Anger has been a driving force for me for many years, and I always thought my mother was crazy, but until I found this website and others similar I had no understanding of so many whys…….Thank you!
Six months ago I took my mother once again out to lunch and once again she got drunk, stumbling out of the restaurant (she’s 89) after 2 martinis. I asked her not to drink more than one and she fought me like a petulant child. I was worried she would fall and break a hip, or worse. In the car ride home after I got her coffee at a doughnut shop she started to pat my shoulder and then to caress it saying, “I loved my babies.” She meant my brother and myself, but it turned my stomach and I pushed her away. She has never been physically affectionate and disciplined me by slapping me in the face until I turned 15 and I slapped her back–telling her to never do it again. So I really do not like being touched by her on a good day never mind this day. Then I let loose all the pent up anger, telling her how she hurt me over the years, letting her know how entitled she acted and how I would no longer put up with it. Can I tell you how much better I felt–then I got a phone call from my daughter, my mother had called her right away to tell my daughter how mean I had been, I am (according to my mother) a bitter, angry woman who hurts her own mother. No surprise–my daughter was curious, not understanding the dynamics–yet.
Since then I backed off and no longer feel as obligated (and this is the tough part–I still feel very guilty and I am 64!).I try to make myself and my needs known if they ever ask(they never do). My brother (the golden child or as I always thought my mother’s favorite) texted me to ask if I would help him plan her 90th birthday party. I was wary because a few years ago I “helped” him plan our parent’s 50th wedding anniversary party by getting a hall, the caterer and a musician and paying for half only to have him scream at me the day before on the phone when I asked him if my daughter could man the guest book–he said I had “done nothing, he had to do it all”! I do not trust him.
I let my mother and brother know I could not be available to participate in the planning etc. of this birthday party but would be there and bring a special cake. I was shocked at what they did next–my brother who is not in contact with either my daughter or myself texted my daughter asking her if he should/could invite my former husband (her father)! My brother and he are not friends, the divorce was not amicable, my mother thought my former husband “never did anything to her” and after all “he was once part of the family” so why not invite him? My daughter was shocked, texted it would not be comfortable. A few weeks later my brother texts my former husband directly and says “do not mention this to your daughter but (my mother) would like you to be at her birthday party”. Now my former husband is shocked-texts back he does not keep secrets from his daughter like this and no he would not go.
My anger was palpable–I think now they both did it on purpose to punish me. I went to the birthday party, was gracious to all the guests, ignored my brother and his family and was kind to my mother–but I am done.

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Jean October 30, 2016 at 6:41 am

My nm has been my responsibility since childhood. She divorced my father when I was 5 and never said anything nice about him. Her comments were as followed: You were not wanted, your father does not love you, your father did not care if you lived or died, you and your brothers and sisters always had your problems, you were too sensitive, you need to keep your weight down, your grandmother and grandfather don’t like you, the list goes on and on. I always knew there way something extremely wrong with her and my dysfunctional family, the bullying, sexual abuse, physical violence, lack of socialization, feeling inferior and never good enough or smart enough. I am in my 50’s and I started reading a lot of books on dysfunctional families, narcissistic personality disordered mothers and ptsd about 2 years ago. My mother lived next to me for most of my adult life, then a year ago when I started putting my needs first, due to health issues. I could not take her everywhere any longer, she freeked out! She has always smeared my name but it got really ugly. She started with accusations of elder abuse, telling total strangers that I would not do anything for her to help her. It got so bad that she hired a young girl from Church to come in and clean her house and cook for her. She also sent her to the bank and to the post office because she said I cannot be trusted any longer. People that knew my mother and my husband and I would not talk to us anymore and avoided us altogether. She was on the phone all of the time gossiping and saying she could not stand to live by us. Then coming over and saying ” So and so think that you need help and they were going to call me to find out why I treat my mother so badly. Six months ago she saw my husband out in the yard and asked him to come over to her house for a minute. She had asked him if I had dementia. I called her on the phone and told her off and I said I have taken all the crap and false accusations that I am going to take and I want her to leave me alone. She went into attack mode then and said that she is moving to another state with my sister ( who was jailed for domestic violence) and works in a nursing home. My sister and brother came in the early morning hours with a uhaul and left without saying a word to me. She did tell my husband “it was nice knowing him”. and drove off giving us the finger as she drives down the driveway. I think she thought that I would cry and tell her not to leave, but instead I rejoiced! I wish that I would have read these books years and years ago. I feel like most of my life was wasted on her needs. Thank God for my immediate family. I have no contact with my sibling and my narcissistic mother and it feels great.

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Jen November 29, 2016 at 10:12 am

I think the shallow breathing may be causing pain in my body actually. When I take deep breaths, I am more aware of the pain and then it dissipates some. Deep breathing helps me feel less focused on problems and more open to the big picture.

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