The Duplicity Dance With One Mother And One Daughter


\doo-PLIS-i-tee, dyoo-\ , noun;

 1.Deliberate deceptiveness in behavior or speech; also, an instance of deliberate deceptiveness; double-dealing.

 2.The quality or state of being twofold or double.

I didn’t really, truly begin to see my mother until I was an adult. In my childhood and in my teens, I was cast by her spell. My mother suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. But I was only able to name it just recently. In the past she was “weird,” “mean,” “an abuser,” “fake,” and “crazy.”

My parents are known for meeting someone and adopting them into their fold. They are “the best friend I’ve ever known,” “the kindest neighbor I’ve ever had,” “the sweetest person I’ve ever met.” That is, until the first mis-step. And then that person tumbles into a dark abyss. One day you’re the kindest neighbor. The next day you’re the spinster. On and on it goes. The best employee, the crook. The beautiful friend from church, the cripple.

My mother put me on a pedestal. According to her, I was the perfect baby. The perfect child. I was a young adult when my mother came back from a therapy session and she said, “My therapist says I put you on a pedestal and I need to take you off.” I remember the huge relief I felt just her saying that. My feelings validated. But it was also in that moment that I began to stand up for myself. Pull away from her control.

In that moment, I scrambled off that tower as fast as I could. In her eyes, I came tumbling down.

It was the beginning of the end for us.

My parents had followed me to where I lived. Nevermind that they had aging parents back in our home state. I was Golden Girl. I would “fix” my mother. When I tumbled from the pedestal they packed up and moved away. After they left, people in our small town would ask about my parents. How are they? Oh, they are just the sweetest people. I just love your Mom. She has such a wonderful sense of humor.

Sweetest people? Wonderful sense of humor? I didn’t see it. What I saw behind closed doors, within the comfort of their home was unkindness, selfishness and biting sarcasm. Behind closed doors she criticized others, made fun of weaknesses. What were these people seeing that I didn’t?

Duplicity. My mother is a master.

I recently saw an episode of House where the case involved a woman who was able to understand feelings but wasn’t able to experience them. She had perfected the art of lying and lacked a conscience. A clinical psychopath. At one point she deliberately upsets one of the doctors on her case. After the personal attack, the doctor appears to be on the verge of tears. The patient asks, gleefully, if she’s going to cry. She wants to see it happen because she hasn’t mastered that emotion yet.

Now I’m not so cruel as to call my mother clinically psychotic. But I saw my mother in that episode. Appearing the wildly successful career woman with the perfect husband, the perfect life.  Behind closed doors? A life that is distorted and phony.

I was recently looking through some photo albums with my children. The pictures of my father with them depicted playfulness, warm hugs and cuddles, belly laughs. With my mother they are forced. She holds them as infants at uncomfortable angles, out away from her body, stiff, with a pained expression as if she can’t wait for the moment to end. She will ask  me to take a picture of her with her grandchildren. To prepare for the pose she will stand a few feet away from them and then you’ll see this flash of recognition, as if suddenly she remembers to lean in, get close.

In the beginning of our marriage my husband would explain to me that my mother was sick. That it was just like any other disease. That I should be more understanding and not take it personally.  But then the behind-closed-doors-meanness crept into his world.

It started with snide remarks, and rolling of the eyes when he’d state an opinion and then moved to direct comments like, “I raised my daughter for better than this!” while appraising our first apartment together during our humble-beginning-years. He no longer tells me to stop taking her comments personally. He no longer talks about her “illness.” Instead, we have established limits for the amount of time we spend with them and never allow the children to be alone with her.

Like a magician, now you see her – now you don’t. She wears one face for some, a different face for others. And I have moved through a range of emotion, acceptance levels and tolerance. I straddle between guilt and anger. Guilt because it’s my mother. I feel like we’re supposed to be close. But when I try to be close she pulls a stunt that brings on anger and I push away. Even my role with her has become a dance with duplicity.

I envy my friends with warm, loving relationships with their mothers. I struggle to recognize destructive behaviour in myself so as not to repeat it with my own daughter. And I wrestle often with feelings of guilt and anger over a lost childhood and lost relationships. Dancing amidst all of the feelings I push myself to let go of destructive memories and people I can’t control.

My life now is about creating a new dance. A pure and joyful, playful, dance with my own children. Thank goodness I can both understand and experience every emotion. Even the negative ones. I am so grateful that I am not crippled by a disease that keeps me from experiencing intimate, loving relationships – filled with good and bad.

Even when I am experiencing loss and longing it means that I am capable of understanding and feeling.

And for that I feel so very, very lucky.  


Filed under Motherhood

20 responses to “The Duplicity Dance With One Mother And One Daughter

  1. suzicate

    Jane, This is so sad. The fact that you can see this and distance yourself without cutting off the relationship is a huge sign of growth in your own personal process. The mother/daughter relationship is complicated. Your recognition of your own relationship will keep you from recreating the same one with your daughter. Childhood hurts, anger, resentments etc.. are difficult to come to terms with and move on. It sounds as if you’ve identified these areas, dealth with them, and moved on. I wish you a lifetime of healthy and happy relationships.

  2. angelcel

    I recognise a lot of this with my own mother. She’s gone now and it’s only really now that I can put her in perspective, thinking about just how unhappy she must have been within herself.

  3. Wow. You just, in all seriousness, wrote about my life. That’s MY mother. She has everyone fooled too. In fact, I didn’t see everything clearly until I finished my masters in marital and family therapy. I’ve learned what she is, and how to deal with her. What angers me is that no other family member is willing to accept my perception. They all take the “she is sick, so cut her some slack” stance. She has them all fooled. However in my mom’s case, I believe it’s somewhere between BPD and a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. EVERYTHING is about her… no one else exists. The anecdotes we could share!

    I, too, don’t know what a real parent-child relationship is, so I’m discovering it for myself with my son. (My father spent his life distanced from us, just trying to keep his head above water with this one.)

    It’s good that you are grounded in what you know about the situation and yourself. You’ve already conquered it. Keeping you in my thoughts now more than ever. =)

  4. Jane,
    Thanks for such a heart-wrenching post. It’s really hard to not get along with your mother. I think it’s because whether we want to or not, we see ourselves in our mothers; we see them in us. In some primitive way, we want to be like them, but more rationally, we realize that we can’t be, or shouldn’t be. I spend a lot of time making decisions–even small ones–that will land me in a better place than my mother. But then I also want her approval. Go figure.

  5. Mel

    Jane, perspective is everything, isn’t it? Thank goodness you see your mother for who she is and don’t let her madness warp you. It’s a wonder you have such balance and sanity after that childhood!

    I still marvel at the public persona my mom has perfected, the adoring friends who see her as the most wonderful person they know, but I see every demon and personality flaw lurking beneath the surface, and all I see is duplicity. It’s a wonder I’m not crazy from all the acting we do in my family, because there is nothing to be gained from telling the truth but more drama.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Borderline Personality Disorder is a nightmare. I can’t imagine how painful it must have been to deal with your mother as you were growing up.

  7. I have a friend whose mother is very similar. I agree that the fact that you are able to articulate it and hold yourself apart from it is admirable, but I feel for you because it must take a serious emotional toll. I’m sorry that you didn’t have what your children have — a warm, thoughtful, compassionate mother.

  8. Jane, your post totally made me cry because my relationship with my mother is in crisis. We had a good relationship before she moved in with us and now everything is a mess. She does a lot of the things you mentioned, the eyerolling, the categorizing, the pedastaling, the vicious criticism. It is very hard to live with her, yet I don’t want to have to ask her to leave. Anyway, I am with you. Your feelings are real. Thank you so much for your honesty. I admire you.

  9. Jane, I admire your openness and insight in reflecting on your mother and sharing those reflections with us. I think that, in acknowledging her illness and its effects on you, you are taking a tremendous step forward in avoiding revisiting any of her behavior on your own children.

  10. unabridgedgirl

    Wow. This is an emotion-packed post, Jane. I am grateful that I haven’t had to go through this with my mother, but there is someone in my family that is EXACTLY what you described here. Everyone find her the “sweetest” person, but behind closed doors – – man, she knows how to manipulate, gossip, and cause a lot of problems. Sometimes, I find it hard to like her. I love her.

    But it’s hard.

    I am glad that you can experience emotion, too, and that you recognize the blessing in that.

  11. There is so much here that I can relate to. As I often discuss with my therapist, just because I *know* something doesn’t mean I am not still achingly sad about it. One thing that has helped me a bit is grieving for the lost relationships I wanted but will never have.

    Thanks for sharing, Jane. Killer post.

  12. ck

    It’s so hard when we have a parent doing things to us, even as adults, that can break us in an instant. It’s even harder to keep from repeating it, or just to keep it away from our kids. You wrote this so beautifully, somehow infusing hope into an otherwise dark situation. Thank you for sharing so much of your heart…and hope.

  13. Jane, this is an honest and brave post. I’m not sure these things are easy to feel or write. But by doing so you are getting it out there – the less-than-perfect relationship that so many can relate to… There is a universal chord here as always and I am proud of you for striking it.


  14. Wow. That’s a lot for a young woman to handle, and a lot to revisit as a mother now yourself.
    Gorgeously written and brave, Jane. Good luck finding your way through it, and congratulations for finding new hope in your relationship with your children.

  15. What a gift for you that you have learned to experience joy to the fullest and also a range of emotions because of your mom’s inability to experience just this … very ironic and bittersweet, too. Coming from a family where depression and bipolar disorder seem to becoming the rule and not the exception, my mom and sisters and I now understand more about my grandmother and what may have been undiagnosed for all those years. Its scary to think these things are hereditary but freeing in a way, too as the soul can do some incredible healing when it has the information.

  16. *hugs* This was a wonderful post. It’s was so brave of you to talk about this. My mom had wicked PMS, like my-god-her-head-is-spinning, and I watch for it in myself. Lately I’ve learned she’s also co-dependent, and I see that in myself. It’s hard making sure you don’t turn into your mom.

  17. My husband has a friend that is this way. It scares me enough to make sure that my husband does not see him too often (not that my husband wants to).

    But, having a friend that way is far different than having a mother. I am so sorry for you.

  18. I read your post a few days ago (I am subscribing via emails 🙂 ) but didn’t know how to comment. I feel for you: hard to imagine what it’s like growing up with someone like that, someone who’s supposed to make you feel secure! I’m glad that you have been able to break free and that your husb has been such a strong support. I remember the post that you wrote about wondering/worrying whether a part of your mother is in you (and of course all of us told you to not to be so silly!) I looked BPD up after I read this post, and I was floored. I know I am a bit “hypochondriac” when it comes to mental disorders, but I have been afraid that the description could be talking about me: “While they can develop intense but stormy attachments, their attitudes towards family, friends, and loved ones may suddenly shift from idealization (great admiration and love) to devaluation (intense anger and dislike). Thus, they may form an immediate attachment and idealize the other person, but when a slight separation or conflict occurs, they switch unexpectedly to the other extreme and angrily accuse the other person of not caring for them at all.” Even if it’s not clinical, I have been doing a lot of soul searching here…

  19. As usual, I wrote with no mental filter. Then I realized that my comment may be misconstrued as trivializing what you went through as a child. But it’s too late; I’ve already hit the submit button. I hope you are not offended in anyway as I didn’t mean to make light of the ordeals. I was truly panicking as I read along the symptoms while at the same time horrified at the thought that any child should live through such nightmares…

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