As a 7-year-old girl, I stood on the porch with my 12-year-old sister. It was a sunny day, with gorgeous blue skies, and the grass smelled fresh and clean. To anyone passing by on a walk, we would have looked like two little girls playing patty-cake on the front porch of the house. What they wouldn’t see were the tears streaming down our cheeks; the damp tissue that my sister held in her hand, practicing how to make a perfect ball of dough.
That was the reason why we were outside in the first place. My mother had been teaching my older sister how to make round bread (roti) on the stove, and she wanted her to master how to make the dough into a perfectly sized ball to eventually use the rolling pin on. In my mother’s eyes, my sister wasn’t doing it correctly, and not nearly as quickly as she wanted her to.
I was in the family room, playing, and I remember my mother’s voice getting louder and louder. I mentally urged my sister to get it right so that the yelling would stop. But it didn’t. In a fit of rage, she pushed us both out on the porch, and locked the door behind us.
In a flurry of sniffles and tears, we made a show of being two happy sisters, just playing outside on a beautiful day. tweet
Even at that age, my sister did not want anyone to know that we had been kicked out by our mother. So after the first car passed by our house, she suggested we play our clapping games to make it look like we were alright. In a flurry of sniffles and tears, we made a show of being two happy sisters, just playing outside on a beautiful day.
After a while, my mother opened the door in a rough manner. I remember cringing as I passed by her while she held the door open. She still had anger on her face, and I was afraid her hand would start swinging as well. After that, my memory goes blank. I don’t know if things got better or worse. Maybe it got better but my mind only remembers the bad parts. Or maybe it got worse and my brain shut itself down as a defense mechanism. But different versions of this same scenario were to happen throughout my life, as time went on.
The definition of the word narcissist is a “person who has an excessive interest in, or admiration of themselves.” They have a major lack of empathy, they exaggerate their own importance, which goes hand-in-hand with believing they are superior to others. They demand admiration and attention from others, have a sense of entitlement when it comes to pretty much everything, and taking advantage of or being jealous of even their own children is something that is very common.
I thought that all mothers had horrible fits of rage over the smallest things; that being yelled at first thing in the morning and then going to school fighting back tears was something that most kids were going through. tweet
We never knew the full extent of this word growing up. In a Pakistani-Muslim home in America, we figured we just lived in a normal, strict household. I thought that all mothers had horrible fits of rage over the smallest things; that being yelled at first thing in the morning and then going to school fighting back tears was something that most kids were going through. I would see my friends with their loving parents and automatically think they were putting on a show because there were other people around.
Slowly, over the course of several years, I did learn that this was NOT normal. And now, as an adult in my 30’s, I go over past events in my mind, and the phrase “emotional abuse” seems fitting.
It was emotional, of course. I would be sad, angry, filled with guilt and shame. The name-calling and taunts, the constant gas-lighting and moments of such anger and rage, even in my most vulnerable moments. IT WAS ABUSE. And it took a long time for me to see past the excuses I made — one of the biggest issues with our culture. In late high school, I noticed that none of my Caucasian American, or Black friends had any of the parental complaints that I did.
“My mom grounded me because I came in after curfew.”
Ummm, first off, I was rarely allowed to go anywhere, and curfew? I didn’t know the meaning of the word since I technically didn’t have one. Why have a curfew if I’m not going anywhere? And being grounded sounded like a vacation. If I did something wrong, I would be yelled and screamed at for what felt like hours. I would be emotionally torn down, and ridiculed, and these episodes left me exhausted and drained.
I thought, maybe this is something other Pakistani kids go through then. Our culture seems a bit stricter, so that was a reasonable explanation. But in my college years, I discovered that even my Pakistani friends weren’t going through the turmoil I was. I was legitimately afraid of my mother. She rarely hit me, and even if she did, I could barely feel it. But her screams and words stung like electric darts.
I was told I should just leave. Pack my bags, move out, and take charge of my life. That what I was essentially doing was enabling her. tweet
Her taunts and name-calling left emotional bruises, and I don’t know when, but I started to grow into a very angry person. I let a few friends in on my home life, revealing to them the marital problems my parents had, my mother’s anger, her neediness to have me around constantly to fill the void my father left.
I was told I should just leave. Pack my bags, move out, and take charge of my life. That what I was essentially doing was enabling her. But I grew up like this. I was conditioned to think that this was a normal way of life. She would scream and yell and have her fits, and I was there, on the receiving end of it. Too afraid to move, let alone move out. My sister, married and gone — but constantly on the other end of the phone line — was always worried for me. She talked to my mom for hours every day. It gave me a break; some relief from being here physically.
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said Heaven lies under the feet of your mother. In Islam and our culture, we are taught to respect our parents, to care for them as they get older, and this was all ingrained in me from the beginning. I would hear my friends talk about putting their parents in the best nursing home possible in the future, and I would instantly feel sorry for them. In my mind, I was always going to take care of my mother myself.
She had told me how wronged she had been her whole life, by her parents, her siblings, her husbands, other relatives, and sometimes even her children. She would add that last one in to guilt me, of course. With a small smirk on her face, she would inform me that she hadn’t forgotten how I had yelled at her that one day years ago, or how I had made some rude remark months ago, and that I had disrespected her. She would shame me into silence again, and again. And I continued to believe her.
Every time I was complimented about anything, whether it was my outfit, my mannerisms, anything at all, my mother made sure SHE got all the credit for it. As I was talking to my aunt on the speaker phone, she told me I had a very sweet personality, as I was asking about her health and telling her she should take better care of herself. My mother gestured towards the phone and whispered that I should respond to her by saying, “Oh it’s because I was raised so lovingly by my mom!” Again, just one of many example throughout my life where everything had to be about her.
My world opened up when I left home, as I experienced another Pakistani family that became my own — my husband’s family. tweet
I got married, and my wedding anniversary became a source of sadness for her. It became her chance to play the martyr, saying she had been alone ever since my wedding day. My world opened up when I left home, as I experienced another Pakistani family that became my own — my husband’s family. And it seemed to me that, other than the odd squabble now and then, this family didn’t treat their children at all the way I was treated. There were no constant guilt trips, gas-lighting, taunts, name-calling, or any of that which I had gone through. And this wasn’t just them being nice to me. They were actually nice TO THEIR OWN CHILDREN, which had been a foreign concept to me for quite some time.
However, being out of the house didn’t excuse me from my daughterly duty to my mother. Just like it hadn’t excused my sister. She had gotten married 9 years before I did, but she was with me the entire time she was gone. She was taunted for being so busy that she didn’t have time to call her own mother. MY sister would visit as often as she could, and for as long as she could to make sure I was alright. With both of us being gone, my mother had one of us on the phone at all times. If not one, then the other. It was a constant game of “tag, you’re it!” with my sister, and I was always losing.
After a few years, we started finding support groups for adult children with narcissistic parents. I researched this world and couldn’t believe it. The descriptions, and the scenarios some of these people had, it was like they were living MY LIFE. Finally, after decades of zero familial support, there were online strangers that could validate what we were going through. It helped us push through the shame we had of not doing enough for our mother, when we clearly were. And what was most astonishing to me, was that this was not a Pakistani-Muslim thing. I had been using that excuse for years. But this was happening to people of ALL cultures.
I hope that other girls that are going through this from a very young age know that they are not alone. That the narcissistic person screaming and taking out all their anger on them might not ever change, but that doesn’t mean that life doesn’t keep going. tweet
My sister and I finally understood one of the most important things. We aren’t enabling our mother; it is self-preservation. It isn’t an excuse, or a cop-out. It is SURVIVAL. Yes, we will always have to take care of our mother. But we are also allowed to stand up for ourselves at some point. And it helps to know that she actually has a narcissistic personality disorder. Maybe it was something in her childhood and early life that triggered it. Perhaps it could be genetic factors that caused it. Whatever it may be, we are the ones who have to handle it. Maybe it would have been easier if I was a son instead of a daughter. Old school Pakistani mentality proves that males get away with so much more than a female ever would. And my mother is nothing, if not old school.
I hope that other girls that are going through this from a very young age know that they are not alone. That the narcissistic person screaming and taking out all their anger on them might not ever change, but that doesn’t mean that life doesn’t keep going.
A very dear friend recently told me, it is said that when Allah has abandoned someone, he closes the doors to their heart. They feel no love, no sympathy, no guilt. The person on the receiving end of the abuse feels it all. The pain, the guilt, the LACK of love from the abuser, but cherishes love more than others would. So Allah is with me, and all the people who have to go through this.
He will help us push through the shame that isn’t ours.
He will open our eyes to a bigger world and make us see, that though we have been emotionally abused, there is still hope and happiness in the world. I see it now. And I pray that others do as well.