Hi, sorry it has taken sooo long to get an answer to you. I apologize and thank you for being so patient. Now some thoughts:
Boundaries are very important because they are how we protect ourselves in relationships; they allow us to feel safe. Growing up with a narcissistic mother you likely had a different experience than many with boundaries. A narcissist makes everything about them. As a child you likely learned that you were only valuable as long as you were meeting the needs of you mother. When you didn’t do this you would be made to feel worthless and like you were a terrible person. Then, worse still, if you did anything very well you may have been subjected to put downs and negative feedback because you “thought you were so great” or something along those lines. So there was no way you could win. The other tool that a narcissistic parent may have used is guilt and shame. When you didn’t live up to her sense of duty in serving her, showed any shape or form of confidence, or simply if she had a bad day, you were likely shamed and made to feel horrible for taking care of yourself or standing up for yourself. These patterns often follow us into adulthood.
Because as a child you were taught to only see your worth in terms of what you could do for other people this is likely something that continues in some form. You may feel temporarily good when you are able to do for others, but this then fades and the question soon turns to “what have I done lately,” so it is a fleeting feeling of self-esteem. Even the most tireless of us begin to feel burned out when constantly doing things for others. However, this may be how you measure and really feel yourself worth. Relationships that could be joyful and energizing become a drain. This in turn makes you feel guilty; like you should be doing something for others and even that you should be enjoying it. So, it continues.
The first thing to do is to cognitively set boundaries. Begin with easy ones such as: I won’t commit to anything that interferes with a family event or something else that is already planned or I have already committed to. Really clearly define what some boundaries will be. Then practice enforcing them. Remember while doing this that people will be disappointed. It is natural to be disappointed when we don’t get something we want, or we get turned down. Think of how your children may respond when they can’t have the toy they want, candy for breakfast, etc. They are disappointed, but they also get over it. Most people are this way. They feel disappointed, but get over it. They don’t get angry and feel that they have been wronged or slighted, that you are a terrible person, or try to make you feel guilty, etc. So remember, people may be disappointed, but not disappointed in you, just disappointed as in the natural feeling we get when our gratification is delayed.
The next thing to do is work on self-esteem. There is no shortcut to this. The best way may either be counseling, reading books, or ideally a combination of both. There are so many books out there relating to self-esteem that I won’t recommend just one. It really is individual. What is great for one person, another may find useless. So go to a local bookstore and really spend some time looking around for some books that you like. The most important thing is that they inspire you and you find them readable. Once you have chosen a couple of these READ them. Many people just skin through them and leave them on a shelf. Read them a little each day. I find that the most benefit is achieved from reading a little every day, rather than in one sitting. If you have insurance or can afford a counselor that is something that you may want to look into. Working on your self-esteem will give you encouragement and strength as you enforce your new boundaries.
Remember that self-esteem is about “being” rather than “doing”. It is about who you are as a person rather than what you can do for others. Often being around a narcissist feels good for a short time, because we feel needed and it feels good to be necessary and needed. But, this feeling soon fades as we get to the burnout phase or simply can’t keep up with the demands. It is the same with the rest of the world. It feels good to do things for others, but if this is where we get our primary sense of worth, we end up constantly striving for more and then when we, inevitably, can’t do it all we feel awful. So this is not self-esteem. Self-esteem is a deeper feeling of self-approval which does not depend day to day on what we do.
It sounds like you have a wonderful family and feel comfortable with them. This is good. As you begin to build your boundaries you can rely on them for support. They can be your respite. Hopefully you feel approval from them in spite of times when you may not be perfect. Using this as your base you may want to begin building some other relationships that you are comfortable in.
One thing to note here, as you ask about deepening relationships, is that there is a difference between introverts and extroverts. These terms do not mean that one person likes to be around people and the other doesn’t. It is simply about what you find energizing. Many introverts really enjoy socializing and people, but need quiet down time to recharge. Introverts find time alone to be energizing and soon they are back out there with the party, so to speak. Extroverts tend to find time alone tiring and exhausting and draw energy from crowds and other people. You may be an introvert and that’s OK. I am also. So don’t feel like you need to have a huge network of close friends. You may prefer a couple of very deep close friendships and leave the rest as acquaintances. Knowing this may also help you to establish social boundaries. You don’t have to be one way or the other. Find the style that suits you and makes you feel energized.
Now, on to your mother: She is probably the one who can trigger the worst feelings in you; shame, guilt, etc. In young children there are certain stages of development identified as trust vs. mistrust and shame vs. autonomy. These are the stages that are most effected when raised by a parent with a personality disorder. Trust may not come easily to you and shame might. Remember that whenever we deal with our parents, no matter how old we are, we tend to revert a little bit to children. I think that you have made the right decision to limit the amount of contact that you have with your mother. She will set you back as you try to make progress on these issues. At the same time, you likely cannot cut her out completely. You will need to know what to expect when you see her; you probably do. Prepare yourself beforehand. Also, know that she will not change. Personality disorders are deep-seated issues with insecurity that may develop before the age of two. Change takes a lot of commitment and work. So don’t expect this from her. Also remember that narcissists, in spite of how they behave, have a very deep feeling of insecurity and lack of self-worth. It is a defense that develops to hide this, and it hides it well. Knowing this may make it easy to feel sorry for her, rather than angry. This doesn’t mean that you need to put yourself at risk to try saving her though. She has developed defenses that somehow are working for her and will be OK. Just shift your view of her from someone who is evil to someone who is sick.
Think of this sickness as being contagious (the anger, shame, guilt, etc). Just as you would protect yourself from infection while visiting a sick person (mask, gloves, keeping a distance, etc.) you must protect yourself from your mother in the same way. This is what boundaries do. If you have contact with her and leave feeling horrible, just say to yourself, “oops I must have caught her germs” then, just as you would if it was a virus or bacteria, take care of yourself so that your immune system can heal you.
So, boundaries are prevention from infection, your self-esteem is your immune system, and your family, reading, doing things you enjoy, etc, are your self-care that boosts your immune system. Look after yourself, spend some time away from your mother (and don’t feel bad about this), establish boundaries, and build self-esteem. If you are able to do these things, I think that you will begin to feel much more connected with people and find more enjoyment in life.
This will be a long but ultimately fulfilling challenge. Keep at it and continue to ask for help when you need it. Counselors can be very helpful (though I am probably biased J) I hope that this is helpful and again, I apologize for the time you had to wait for your answer. If you have any other questions feel free to ask. I generally check in here daily, but have been traveling lately with spotty internet. So you shouldn’t have to wait so long in the future for an answer. Thanks. Dan