Dear Dr. Yael:
Baruch Hashem I am a happily married woman, but I carry within my heart the pain of my relationship with my mother. Let me explain.
My mother is a financially successful woman and has always been the breadwinner; my father has been learning his whole life.
While it sounds like she is devoted to a Torah life, there hasn’t been a day on which she doesn’t tell my father what a loser he was because he does not make money or support our family. My father never answers her back; he spends his time learning, giving shiurim, and trying to help out in the house by cooking, shopping, and taking care of us while my mother is working. My father always spoke well of my mother and is proud of her success.
Over the years, my father’s self esteem has become virtually non-existent and he is very submissive, tiptoeing around her to keep the peace. Ironically, this has only made things worse. My mother has become so comfortable with the way she treats my father, she screams at all of us in public. And the greater her success, the more she has tried to control us with her money. At the same time, she tends to exaggerate her achievements and takes credit for things she did not do. She seems to believe that the world revolves around her. It has gotten so bad that I can’t even be in the same room with her.
My mother thinks of herself as a superior person, has very little feelings for other people, and probably suffers from a deep lack of self-esteem. She can be arrogant, and has unreasonable expectations of her children. She helps us financially, but sometimes I just want to give back all the money, since it comes with great expectations.
My mother doesn’t realize that her parnassa is a gift from Hashem, probably as a result of my special father and his learning.
Amazingly, my siblings and I have all stayed frum, and Baruch Hashem have good marriages. I give my father most of the credit, because in his quiet way he was always there for us. He was the parent we went to with our problems; he was the one who gave us love and understanding.
My mother is only getting worse with age. She screams and becomes easily enraged if someone dares to contradict her wishes in any way. She is ridiculous in how she attempts to manipulate us and control all of us. I know that she will never go for psychological help, so please don’t tell me to encourage her to go. She will not listen to any rav, since she has little respect for anyone but herself.
I am writing in hopes that you can explain my mother’s behavior in a way that will help me be more compassionate towards her and less angry. I know this is hard to do as you have never met her, but maybe you can recommend some material for me to read.
I still care about my mother and want the best for her, but I am at my wits end. Thank you for taking the time to read my letter.
A Frustrated Daughter
It is difficult to diagnose someone you have never met. However, from the information you have provided, it sounds as if your mother has a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the essential feature of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a need for constant admiration and a lack of empathy beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- Has a grandiose sense of importance
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high status people
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a sense of entitlement
- Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)
- Lacks empathy; is unwilling to recognize or identify with the needs of others
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes