reading notes: you're not crazy, it's your mother

A while back, I made a new friend, and shortly afterward, I shared a post about estrangement on Facebook. She sent me a message letting me know that she also has a narcissistic mother and recommending Danu Morrigan's book You're Not Crazy - It's Your Mother. Danu is the driving force behind the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers site and forum, which, coincidentally, was one of the first resources I found 5+ years ago when I started really trying to figure out what the hell to do about my relationship with my mother. I had known for about a decade before that point that my mother was a pathological narcissist, but had just gotten to the point of deciding that I was not going to engage with her crap any more. I think my friend, being younger than myself, had only recently realized what the deal was with her own crazy mother, and having found resources, she was eager to share them. Sweet person that she is, she sent me a copy of the book in the mail. At the time, I was really not wanting to read yet another book about dealing with an abusive parent, especially since I was in a phase of feeling at peace with my decisions and not in turmoil about my place in the world, so the book resided on my shelf for almost a year.

Recently, I've been feeling bummed about the collateral damage in my extended family relationships, and I've been supporting my Wonder Twin (WT) with her family stuff, and I'm back to writing here, and I'm trying to figure out what my dad's illness means for me, and I've read a ton of fiction lately, so I'm feeling open to some self-improvement reading. Last night some stuff about WT's mom triggered some of my own mom issues, so before bed I grabbed You're Not Crazy and started perusing. I figure I'll keep notes here on ACONography for the sake of remembering good quotes and providing a bit of a review for interested folks.

Without further ado...
You're Not Crazy - It's Your Mother
Danu Morrigan

Who would appreciate this book:

  • women just starting out in exploring issues with crazy moms
  • people who like a casual, conversational writing style and lay-person approach to discussing psychological / emotional illness
  • people who are experienced, well-read ACONS but want a quickie refresher / pick-me-up or a new perspective

Most thought-provoking quote thus far: 
"The kind of attention she prefers is admiration, but fear works well, too, if that's all she can get. And pity, failing even that." (p. 18)
Aha! While I'm very, very familiar with the love the narcissist has of being admired and/or feared, it had never occurred to me that pity is also a form of attention. This leads me to reflect on those times during my relationship with my mother when I clearly was not behaving in an admiring or fearful fashion, and she whipped out the "you have it so much better than I had it" or "when I was your age..." stuff. Kid isn't adoring you? Attempt to strike fear into her heart has failed? Go for "poor me, I had a sucky childhood with an abusive father and dead mother."

I do, actually, pity my mother, and with good cause. But I have learned that it's not a constructive discussion topic with her, because she will use it to excuse negative behavior. Sixteen-year-old me had some killer wisdom when my mother was haranguing me about how much more responsibility she took at that age, and I came back with "my mother isn't DEAD." Your shitty childhood is no excuse for being a horrible person to me.

Issues I have with the book:

Like so many other books and websites about narcissistic mothers, You're Not Crazy appears to fall into the trap of "all narcs are EVIL and all of them are EXACTLY THE SAME." This is a big problem I have with the ACON / Nparent community in general and some resources in particular. Narcissism, like just about everything else in life, falls on a continuum, from extreme narcissism through healthy narcissism through extreme lack of narcissism. Not every Nmom will be at the far, far deep end of the pool. As such, some mothers will be more neglectful than others. Some will be more consistently abusive than others. Some may have occasional flashes of empathy while others never do. And it may be more possible to establish effective boundaries with some than with others. My own mother is closer to the deep end in terms of her inability to change, but is not quite as malevolent as some others. My childhood did have good mixed in with the bad, and as such, it's not healthy for me to perceive it as entirely based in evil.  If we don't allow some room for nuance, we've fallen into the same trap as the Nparents themselves. 

It's also important to note that not all narcissists think they are perfect. Far from it. Most narcissists suffer from extreme lack of self esteem. Their narcissism is excess bravado that they layer on top to hide their self-hatred. They know how imperfect they are, on some level. They just can't handle it, and they especially can't handle you pointing it out to them.

So far, Morrigan is not making points with me because of this lack of nuance. For a balanced perspective that helps adult children to understand their relationships and recover from the harm done to them while also acknowledging the humanity of their broken parents, I still vastly prefer Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child

I'm interested to read more, and will share what I think along the way!


  1. I think you've pointed out some good criticisms. My mother doesn't think she's perfect, she's just always trying to convince other people she is (or get them to believe she is). NMIL is the same way. It's very clear to me that both of them have horrible self-esteem.

    And I also found, in the beginning of my search, that their wasn't a lot of wiggle room in definitions of narcissim. It took a lot of digging (and very specific examples, many of which I found with other bloggers blogging personal experiences)for more inclusive definitions of narcissism (and more specifically, narcissistic mothers.) It left me doubting myself: if there were good times, if sometimes I liked her, if sometimes she was helpful and kind, was I just misjudging her? The variations in narcissistic mothers can have such a profound effect on people, even if it's on the "lesser" end of the continuum and I think it's important to show all sides of it.

    P.S. I believe (and I could be wrong)that I've come across other bloggers who've found this woman to be out to profit off of DONMs and that many women, on her forum, have had some negative experiences. I could be wrong (and I'll retract this if I am) that this is the name of the woman, but I believe so. I've not had any experience with her myself, but thought I'd bring that to your attention.

  2. Yes, I do think many Ns have such heinously bad self-esteem that they desperately need to hear praise of themselves (I can kindof relate to this - I really really like to hear good things about me, possibly because of the effects of my own Nmom), and they get super, super defensive about criticism. It's understandable when you think about them as children who didn't get what they needed from their own Nparents.

    Re: the DONM author, I think I have heard that before. I'm not a member of her forums. I initially found her site to be validating, but because it rarely has new content, I pretty quickly moved on to other resources. I also don't really buy into EFT/"tapping." There is one other author that you might be thinking about. I have no personal negative experience and zero forum experience with either.

    1. I have zero experience either with her, but just wanted to mention it for any "newbies" who may be looking to her site for answers: just be careful.

      I do believe this is the woman, as I remember the "tapping" being an issue with others. I also found her information helpful at the beginning, but a bit shallow, so I went looking for more in-depth material.

      And I do think everyone likes to have praise and hear good things about themselves (especially if we were denied that a lot as children). But with the Ns, the seem to demand that positive affirmation on constant basis. And as you said, their is NO room for criticism or opposing viewpoints. And also, I noticed too, that it's not enough for them to have just constant praise, but that they need ALL of the praise. Like with my MIL, it's not enough to say she's a good cook, she has to be the BEST cook. And if someone praises me, she undercuts and devalues it. They are never "full up" or satisfied with praise and also have to "hog" it all for sharing!

  3. Your criticisms of this book are well founded. It's too convenient to just slap the "evil" label on the narcissists in our lives. In doing so, we become like them, unable or unwilling to look beyond the anger, hurt, frustration and betrayal. In my experience, I think it's a normal initial reaction when we first figure out that there's something seriously wrong with parent/adult child relationship dynamic. The problem is getting stuck there, and that's (IMHO) what Danu Morrigan advocates.

    Her website doesn't change and her forums can be scary places. It feels very supportive at first, but watch out if you accidentally tread into some of the "forbidden" topics. There are quite a few other bloggers in the ACoN community who have been unceremoniously tossed from the forum with no explanation merely for voicing a dissenting opinion.

    Re: EFT. My therapist uses it with me in session when things are very, very charged and I've found it helpful. It works similarly to EMDR. I'm very suspicious of Morrigan's version of it, and no, it's not something she developed or patented, so if she's implying that, she's full of crap.

    YES to Alice Miller! "The Drama of the Gifted Child" and "The Body Never Lies" were hugely helpful to me.


  4. It is so wonderful to read this post. I have a mother I struggled with for fifty years and now she is 85 years old. I have contact with her because I love her. I toe the line. Stay pleasant because that's all she can handle. Trust me. Her fangs can come out very quickly. But I also care about her and have accepted her limitations. She will never get over me cutting her off. My sister has done that and it has shattered her heart. I can't hurt her that way, though God knows she has crushed me over and over again.

    I see her problem as enslaving for her. She never had a great life outside her children and family. She was unable to make friends in the world at large because she can't control those people. She is wracked with personal insecurity.

    But she also did some great things, rose to some very difficult challenges and came through for us in other ways. So, I will be her little mirror when I am with her. And that's okay. I love her.

    I don't like Danu's world of hatred. I think it is toxic and very dangerous. Particularly to women whose mothers are not so bad. But who are judged to be hideous through Danu's eyes. I'll have nothing to do with her agenda. How many mothers have been devastated from that? We don't know. How many relationships could have found an area of functionality but didn't? We don't know.

    This has to be the next step in the Narcissistic Mother's awareness. They are sick and sometimes you can work around it a little bit so you don't totally crush them to pieces. Worked with in whatever small doses you can manage.