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Breaking Free from Manipulative, Narcissistic Parents

Breaking Chains

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” ~Brené Brown

I happened to catch the last scene of the movie Moonstruck on TV a few nights ago. The scene marks the happy resolution of various plot threads, and yet I felt as if I was witnessing the sinking of the Titanic.

It was like watching a demonstration of what I have come to understand as the two ways of being in this world: dominating vs. accepting, narcissism or bullying vs. kindness.

Having come from a narcissistic family myself, it felt as if the movie was peering straight into my soul.

In the movie, Loretta Castorini is engaged to Johnny Cammareri, an aging mama’s boy who never married, out of ‘consideration’ for his ailing mother in Sicily.

In this scene, he bursts in, announcing that he can’t marry Loretta because it would kill his mother, and asks for his engagement ring back. In the next moment, Johnny’s brother, Ronny, promptly proposes to Loretta, borrowing Johnny’s ring to seal the deal.

The movie centers on Ronny and Loretta, yet seeing the last scene isolated from the rest of the movie drew me to Johnny’s experience.

There he was, controlled by his mother long-distance from Sicily, giving up his marriage in deference to his mother’s script about who he needed to be in order to support her needs.

The confusion on Johnny’s face as his brother claims the prize of Loretta’s hand in marriage is heartbreaking. Johnny isn’t quite sure what is happening, and yet he dare not question his mother’s love, nor break free of his supporting role in his mother’s drama.

His life has been spent, and, unless he wakes up, will continue to be spent, in service to her, at a great cost to him.

I see myself in Johnny. I was well into middle age before I was able to break free of my father’s domination of my life, and I suspect that, like me, many people delay the beginning of their own lives out of misplaced fealty to the stories their parents scripted for them.

For years, whether rebelling against my dad’s criticisms or craving approval from outside myself, I had, on a deep level, ceded the central role in my life to my dad.

Whether we were close or miles apart, communicating or no contact, he was the sun, and I was orbiting his solar system. This is exactly how he wanted it, and I fell into place within the structures and systems of his universe.

There is so much truth in humor. Johnny’s mother’s threats are played for laughs, and yet they are more than mere melodramatic manipulation.

An acquaintance of mine energetically supported her narcissistic mother for decades. When she became aware of the family dynamic, she chose to withdraw her energetic support of her mother, and for the first time in her life, focus on herself as an individual.

The potentially intimidating part is that her mother actually became ill.

This is not to imply that my acquaintance should have continued to support her mother, it is simply to say that the energetic connection is real, and removing it, as necessary as it may be, is like removing a crutch someone has grown dependent upon.

It sparks an enormous upheaval and rebalancing for both parties, and yet it must be done in order to achieve greater health and freedom on both sides.

The saddest part for children of narcissistic parents, and also for partners of narcissists, is losing confidence in our own authentic feelings, hopes, and dreams. The narcissist’s insistence upon pretense, and the demand to suppress authentic experience can be very painful.

The younger brother, Ronny, was lucky to have been the black sheep of the family; at least he was distanced from his mother’s demands. Nonetheless, he, too, was damaged.

When we first encounter him in the basement of his bakery, he looks like a hurt animal hiding in his lair. He has a wooden prosthetic hand, as Loretta says, “like a wolf that has chewed off his own paw to escape a trap.”

To narcissistic parents, a child is not a full-fledged individual, but rather a character in their story, and the roles they offer their offspring are severely limited.

Whether a “golden child” who can do no wrong, or the “failure” who can do no right, in either role the child will feel that he must perform in order to try to keep or win the parent’s love.

This is not love at all, but rather a form of abuse, which is worse for being invisible to all but those directly involved. The child is asked to give up her own feelings, thoughts, and needs in order to support the parents’ version of reality.

The child, meanwhile, resists facing the direness of the situation—the truth of a manipulative or even an unloving parent—for she intuits that she needs her parents’ love in order to survive.

At the same time, she may feel excruciatingly uncomfortable living inside the parents’ stories. Like Johnny, she may end up not knowing who she really is and what she really wants, having given up her own thoughts, emotions, and needs for so long.

In the movie, neither brother escapes unscathed: Johnny, the golden child, was hobbled, tied to his mother’s apron strings, and Ronny, the black sheep, was also wounded and cut off from the rest of humanity.

Like so many rebels among us, Ronny finds solace in the arts, in his case, opera. As a child, my passion for dance sustained me. It was an outlet for self-expression, and an opening for the magic I needed in order to survive.

Funny to speak of all this in the context of a romantic comedy, yet perhaps the power of the story stems from its basis in profound truth.

At the end of the final scene, Johnny sits alone as the family excitedly gathers to toast the new couple. He looks stunned, isolated, and lost amid the celebration. Then the grandfather approaches Johnny and extends a glass of champagne, offering the last line in the movie: “You’re part of the family.”

And with that, Johnny is embraced in the warmth of the family, and I burst into tears. How different is this warm embrace compared to the demands of the narcissistic parent.

Johnny is played as a buffoonish character, and the audience is fully rooting for Ronny and Loretta. Yet even clownish Johnny is embraced.

This is love. This is real acceptance.

This is the tenderness of the movie. This is its big heart, which is depicted, not just in the romantic passion of Ronny and Loretta, but more importantly, in the inclusion of Johnny in the celebration. As the credits begin to roll a toast is raised: “La famiglia!” To family!

This is the archetypical image of the loving family. And yet many of us did not experience that. And many of us hide a secret shame that our families aren’t like that. I know that I was deeply ashamed for a long time that my story wasn’t pretty like that, until one day I realized that it was not my fault.

On the day that I accepted my family as it was, and realized that I wasn’t responsible, and rejected the stories they told. On that day I reclaimed my right to my truth about what happened, what I felt, what I thought, and what I experienced.

Reclaiming our stories—our truth—is how we take our power back.

If any of this speaks to you, go watch Moonstruck. Johnny hasn’t woken up yet from the spell his mother cast over him. Ronny, with the help of Loretta’s love, breaks out of his hurt isolation and reclaims his life.

Wake up and face your truth. Sometimes facing the ugliness is the route we must take in order to reclaim our own beauty and power.

About Reba Linker

Bestselling author and life coach Reba Linker helps others walk the path of self-love to a happier, more fulfilled way of life. Reba is dedicated to the alleviation of suffering in the world. Reba’s books include Imagine Self-Love, The Little Book of Manifesting Big, and Follow the Yarn. Find her free gift for you at RebaLinker.com and join her FB group at facebook.com/groups/leadersinselflove/.

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  • KRZC

    Thank you so much for posting this. I’m still attempting to cut the apron strings – even today, this morning in fact!

    I learned that I actually had emotions, thoughts, and feelings in my early twenties (I’m 28 now). It struck me one day, I said to myself – my feelings aren’t wrong. I was so convinced that everything I thought and felt was so meaningless that they must be wrong or defective. I don’t know how I stumbled on this new thought but it struck a cord with me and ever since that day I’ve been working hard to get my own life together.

    You talk about people turning to the arts to give them self a voice but I couldn’t even do that. My parent wanted me to be a singer and because of that I became their tool in them expressing their emotions through the arts. Pretty messed up.

    I’m just glad I’m at least aware of it all now. I still have a relationship with that parent but I’ve created boundaries – which they hate. Sometimes I feel like they are a tidal wave crashing into the wall I’ve built, trying to break it down and get back in. Because of this, I continually reenforce the wall with the help of a loving spouse and accepting friends. This relationship has caused so much doubt in myself but I’m slowly working my way through it. It is so hard because you love that parent so much and that is why it was so easy for them to control you, pretty messed up as well.

    Again, thank you for posting this. I’m going to save it so I can read it every so often. It makes me feel like I’m not alone and it wasn’t my fault.

  • Diane Elayne Dees

    The dynamics you describe actually go even deeper, in that Johnny (accurately described by Loretta’s father as a “big baby”) enjoys some secondary gain from being a victim of his mother’s narcissism. He never has to grow up or take responsibility or deal with intimacy.

  • I’mposs “RevEvo” ible

    Wow wow wo I dont know i just started crying. I’m struck.
    Ive had this feeling with my mother that she wants me to be sick. Im starting to think if this has something to do with it. She makes me so small even though im 25 she wants to do everything. She embarres me in public too and it feels like im 12. She wants to fix everything and i feel so incapable. That trap metaphor really struck a cord because i feel im too small to escape whatever i am in. Its been going on for years and ive been depressed and burnt out several times. She told me that i should look sick when we go to the doctor. That i cant move away from her. But i love her. As in the text, it feelsl ike i would kill her if i left. Im sorry just rambling but im in some sort of shock. just needed to express myself and i dont have any friends left.

  • That’s a wonderful point, Diane – the roles become a way of life and there are certain ‘payoffs’ that we accommodate to and even nurture us in some (I would say) ultimately unhealthy way. Thank you for bringing this out, and for highlighting Loretta’s father’s so-pinpoint-accurate description of Johnny!

  • Thanks fragglerock! I couldn’t agree more with what you said: “Realization and acceptance are the hardest part.” Yes, because so much of what we’ve accepted has been a lie. Johnny’s mother certainly said she loved him, but was that really love? Perhaps love was in the mix, but it wasn’t the basis of their interactions, and that is such a hard truth to accept about a parent, male or female. Thank you so much for your comment!

  • Thank you for posting this. It’s an important step to begin to express the questions and doubts you might have. I’m so sorry to hear that the relationship with your mother has been so challenging for you. Just please remember that you have the same right of autonomy and self-determination that every other person has, and you can step away from the system your mother has created, and you can do it with love and good intentions and not have to be responsible to sacrifice yourself for her survival. Sending light and love.

  • I am so honored that my experience and words are blessed to be able to help you on your journey. That means so much to me, and helps transform all that pain into something meaningful and worthwhile. So, thank you for that! I LOVE that somehow the idea that your feelings aren’t wrong – and that became the key to your self-rescue. It’s too bad that artistic expression became part of the manipulative patterns, and I am just so happy for you that you’ve stood up for yourself and have the support of loving spouse and friends. I wish you so much success!

  • fragglerock

    Absolutely! I just want there to be more awareness around this topic. I think a lot of people are suffering and causing others to suffer and have little to no understanding of why!

  • SolSys

    Thanks so much for this! Truer words haven’t been spoken:

    “the energetic connection is real, and removing it, as necessary as it
    may be, is like removing a crutch someone has grown dependent upon.

    It sparks an enormous upheaval and rebalancing for both parties, and
    yet it must be done in order to achieve greater health and freedom on
    both sides.”

  • Yes! There is SO much suffering in silence. I know from my own journey. Thanks so much for helping others speak about this topic! xo

  • Thank you, SolSys, for your comment. And each story is unique. It sounds like you KNOW. xo

  • jon

    I was raised in a religious cult and cut ties with the family 3 years ago.

  • Loved this. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you ,Christine. My pleasure! xo

  • Wow, Jon. You have a story to tell. I wish you the best in sorting it all out and finding your own truth. xo, Reba

  • Lisa Hutchison

    Loved this powerful post Reba and will share with my empathic community, as I know it will touch home with them. xx

  • Thank you, Lisa!

  • Ole

    What if it isnt just one parent, but both of them at the same time? Can you call that narcissism?

    To me that would seem more like parental tyranny as they are enforcing their values onto their children, they are living through their children and the child is not allowed to blossom.

  • Hi Ole, I really appreciate your comment. Yes, all those words, bondage, tyranny, domination – fealty is a word I used (like an indentured servant) – seem appropriate to me, even though someone else might think they are wildly overdramatic. These dynamics really happen, even if they are invisible to the outside eye. And, yes, I would also still call it narcissism as well, though a double dose. No one word will describe everyone’s experience. Let me know your thoughts. xo

  • Ole

    Yes, but i also think it can go both ways. In a symbiotic / codependent fashion. I feel my parents are using me and “keeping” me for their own needs, but i allow this…..to survive i think, to cope with my reality. Its like we need each other……but i hope this is a myth and something i can maybe wake up from….i dont know.

  • I quite understand. I also tried to ‘fit’ with what was asked of me – it becomes a system that gives some form of nourishment – like an IV drip rather than a real feast, perhaps. It’ll keep you alive but it’s certainly not as good as it gets! You are so aware, and that is such a huge start. For me, it took me a long time to wake up to the truth – I couldn’t have done it when they were alive, for many reasons. We all just have to remember that we are doing the best that we can. Sending you good wishes on your journey.

  • Justina Gustafson

    I have never heard of or seen this movie you speak of, but I can relate to it. My parents divorced when I was just a toddler and I grew up w/2 brothers; one older and one younger. My older brother was a slacker and my little brother has ADHD/Autism/Bi Polar, so granted my mother had stress, but she also put stress on me as a young teenager to help her. Back in the 90’s, those disabilities my brother has were not so common as they are today, so treatment was harder. She expected me to take care of the house and my little brother everyday since she worked the night shift all the time. My older brother was always too busy getting high w/his friends. I had way too many expectations for a little 12 year old. But, as my little brother got older, he became a mama’s boy very much. I got older and rebelled b/c I felt very unappreciated. All my mother did was order me around, complain, and ask for rent money. When I was 22, I finally got a place to live and I moved out. She still would call me for help b/c she claims I owe her for supporting 3 kids on her own! lolol When I was 25, I met my now husband. He has his own auto shop and I decided to become an auto tech to help him. She asks us to fix her car whenever needed b/c that’s my mother and his mother-in-law and we’re family and she’ll pay us later! I’m 30 now and my mother lives in an assisted living apartment and my little brother is in a supervised apartment complex. My mother will call to come to our auto shop b/c she is bored, she wants to come visit our house on the weekend b/c she wants to be around family, she asks me to borrow money .. my little brother thinks our mother is righteous b/c she is our mother! No. She warped his mind. I think she is being punished now for all the mean things she did to me as a child/teen/young adult. I just wanted to share my story .. those who have a blessed mother are lucky 🙂

  • Ole

    I love the analogy (IV drip) and I thank you for your responses.

  • Stanislav

    I know how you feel bro. You just have to remember that despite everything, you only live once. You can’t let heavy feelings hold you back from living comfortably. Remember, life is made up up two things: time and energy. Don’t waste either of those on anyone or anything that isn’t worth it.

  • Millen Livis

    Great article, Reba, thank you for sharing the movie plot and your personal life experience… I too had a narcissistic father and for years was living to please him and be “good enough” for him. When I rebelled, it was not pretty and it took me years to become my own person and stop looking for external validation. Thank you for inspiring post.

  • Hi Justina, I am so sorry you had such a hard time growing up. It sounds like you were there for everyone, but no-one was there for you, and all children need that. I am really sorry. It is sad for you and for your mother as well, really – now she is alone and doesn’t have the relationship with you that she perhaps imagined was somehow her ‘due’ but which she did nothing to foster or deserve. It is too bad, too, that in all this, you also don’t get the support of your siblings because they are also stuck in their roles that got created by these dynamics – it’s such a loss, isn’t it?

    I love Alice Miller’s “The Drama of the Gifted Child” which talks about how children are made to ‘perform’ for the parent’s ‘love’ and it explains how this dynamic is passed from one generation to the next. It’s fascinating and feels really true to me. Feel free to share your thoughts about what I’ve written, and best wishes on your journey. I’m so glad you found your way out of there! xo, Reba

  • Thank you, Millen, and I guess we share this in common! It is an amazing journey, isn’t it? I am so in awe of you that you became aware and stopped looking for external validation. That is such a huge accomplishment! xo, Reba

  • I’ve never seen the movie you described Reba, but you write beautifully about the similarities. I didn’t grow up in that type of environment, we had other issues, but I have come to believe “perfect” families are few and far between so most of us can appreciate childhood challenges even if they differ somewhat from our own experiences. Thanks you for having the courage to share your story as I’m sure it will help others.

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  • This article reminded me of my own upbringing. There was a lot of emotional abuse and for so long, I did feel like I had to live my life according to what my parents would approve of and support. I’m really curious to watch this film and see what you commented on. Thank you for sharing this post <3

  • Justina Gustafson

    I like how you say “due” b/c that is exactly what she expects from me and I think it’s quite disturbing. My little brother pays his dues by spending time with her often, involving her in his school/work/Bible study (he is disabled, but the state has certain jobs for disabled people), and he is not in the right state of mind to understand her games and she knows this, but still wants the attention. And I believe I have “emotional detachment” problems b/c I have a serious problem showing my feelings. My mother raised me w/3 rules of life: be independent, go to work, and never rely on a man. So emotional support and feelings were not expressed in my family. Only empathy for my disabled little brother. Just now at 30 years old, I am trying to learn how to be more vulnerable and emotional. And the fact that things can be passed on from generation to generation is true .. my grandma was not emotional either. How would a person learn to stop feeling guilty of expressing feelings and not embarrassed?

  • Reba Linker

    Hi Marie, I am glad the article resonated with you. The funny thing is the movie is widely accepted as a comedy, and the first time I saw it when it came out, I was swept up in the sheer romance and humor of it. Only this time it seemed to offer a more personal message – you know that feeling you sometimes get of something speaking directly to you – about the underlying familial dynamics. I’d love to hear how you like it! xo, Reba

  • Reba Linker

    Thanks so much, Marquita. I think what you say is true, ‘perfect families’ are few and far between. Mine was not that unusual nor was it the worst. Nonetheless, it’s taken me years to sort through my experience, and I am so happy if my story can help someone else. xo, Reba

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  • Reba Linker

    Hi Justina, I love your question: “How would a person learn to stop feeling guilty of expressing feelings and not embarrassed?” I think you’ve hit the nail on the head: we have to learn these things that are son natural to others. Nonetheless, they can be learned, and you are so aware and so asking the right questions and seeking answers. I do believe that in a deep place we already KNOW how to be loving, kind, tender and compassionate, we just need to unlock this information that hasn’t had much of a chance to develop in the real world yet. You are SO on the right path! Much love & encouragement, Reba

  • Crystal W

    I’m still in the process of trying to break free. I still live with my parents so it is very hard ,every day dealing with the narcissism. I can say I have been taking steps to get out into the world, sleep over people’s houses, do the things I need to do for myself rather than being ball and chained.. I love them, but I cannot live controlled anymore. Thank you for this post.

  • Reba Linker

    Thank you, Crystal. xo, Reba

  • Anonymous

    I recently read a book about toxic parenting and it resonated with me. My parents had high expectations for me but never showed me how to reach them. I had a script and if I went off of it then I would get guilt trips or they would remove their love. I was never taught to set goals and study just to achieve good grades and excel. Needless to say that I’m now in a funk. Middle age, recently lost my job and a deep depression with anxiety. I tried going to counseling but the system is broken, especially for those of us with no income. I’ve read several self help books about toxic parenting, PTSD & and codependency. I’m guilty of listening to everything my mother expected of me and when my father saw that then he also tried to guilt me into taking care of him. I recently realized that I have always taken care of someone else. As a child, I was taught to box by my father because my younger brother was constantly getting picked on and so I was his “bodyguard”. Looking back on my life, I feel that my time caring for him, then my mom and now my dad has been so draining that now I’m having medical problems. One day I decided to stop. I told my brother and mother that I was going to take care of myself and my own personal problems because things were starting to affect marriage. In regards to my father, I chose to no longer have contact with him. He was a violent man while we were growing up and I could no longer be around him. He never apologized for his violence because he feels he was right in punishing my mother in front of his children. I was so disappointed and angry with him that I was becoming physically ill (stomach pain and pain all over) and I stopped taking his calls, running errands for him, picking up his meds, paying his bills, etc. Both parents think it’s my duty to take care of all of them and think I’m being selfish but now I know that no one took care of me. I no longer have contact with my father, my brother stopped speaking to me because I no longer jumped through hoops to help him out and my mother lives with my spouse and me. It’s a struggle but we get through it because I’ve learned to set boundaries with her. I learned how to not react when she says or does something to try and draw me back in to her drama. She still jumps at the chance to help her son and ex husband out any way she can but I, and my wife,refuse to be sucked into it again. I’m 41 years old but after everything I’ve been through, personally and emotionally, I feel old. I’m slowly doing it, I’m learning to take care of myself because I was never taught as a child how to love myself. I was taught to play a role, to keep my parents happy, protect my brother, do well in school and never show my emotions and needs. I sometimes catch myself feeling guilty if I have fun but then I tell myself that I deserve it. I deserve to be happy too.

  • Reba Linker

    Dear Anonymous, You truly do deserve to be happy, and, like every other person, to have and feel ALL your other feelings, too: happy, sadness, pain, grief, and the gamut. You are a full human being with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto – no matter what you’ve been taught or who says otherwise. I read your story and I have to tell you I feel what you’ve been through. The serving others, the having ‘no needs’ yourself. What hit me most was this “I feel old.” I felt that, too. So much. That’s the depression and despair speaking and, yes, the very real fatigue of living a life that is exhausting you, energetically. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. I’m getting younger each year as I learn to release more and more limiting beliefs. It can be done! It’s such a process and I can only wish you love, greater and greater self-love, and blessings of all kinds on your journey. You are as deserving as anyone else. I hope you continue to grow in your awareness of that and continue to find the help you need. I recommend Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child. You’ll feel like she is inside your head – amazing and life changing! Much luck and good wishes, Reba

  • Melanie

    Such an amazing article. I can relate as I have a narcissistic mother and no matter what I did as a child and now in my adult years will she accept me. Growing up my mother could do no wrong and I could do no right. I was always told to not upset my mother and my feelings were not even up for discussion. In fact my needs didn’t matter. Im free from it all now and living the life I want and I have made peace with it and like you Reba I had a grandmother who showed me what unconditional love is all about. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Reba Linker

    Thanks so much, Melanie. I so get that about how one’s own needs didn’t matter. It’s sad that so many people have experienced this growing up. I am so glad that we are on the forefront of healing these wounds from the past. Our parents were wounded, too, only they just passed it along. xo, Reba

  • Cameron

    This post did resonate with me. I had a narcissistic dad, who tried to mold me into who he wanted me to be in athletics. It took me many years to let go of what he trained me to do and find what I truly wanted to do and who I really was. I’m thankful that I was able to realize all of this and make the necessary transitions in my 20s. It was hard to let go of what I was taught and molded into because I didn’t have confidence in anything else, but, thankfully, I had enough courage to explore other interests and gained confidence quickly. Like you, I have accepted my dad for who he is, but, unfortunately, he still doesn’t “get it” and continues to not see me for who I really am. Do you still experience that from your parents, and if so, how do you deal with it?

    Thank you for this article, it was great!

  • Reba Linker

    Hi Cameron, Thank you, I’m so glad! And thank you for sharing a bit about yourself. It is so wonderful that you found the courage to explore who you really are and what you really desire, and that you gained confidence in that! To answer your question, my dad passed away a few years ago and while he was alive I believe he was never able to see me as full person or have empathy for my experience. He had his view of me and him and our relationship and he couldn’t deviate from that. Around the time he was dying there was a cartoon in The New Yorker magazine that depicted a bunch of relatives gathered around an elderly man’s deathbed. The man is pointing a bony finger at the assembled crowd and says “Just because I’m dying, don’t think I’ve mellowed!” That pretty much sums it up. While he was alive I couldn’t quite face the full extent of his not being able to see me, so I kind of labored on in the hopes that we had something like a real relationship. I tried very hard but it was a heartbreak in the end. I think kindness towards the parent is good, but more importantly, don’t look for or wait for a parent’s approval if you’re in this type of situation: live your life to the fullest. Pursue your dreams. Know that you are the star of your universe and the leading character in your story. I hope this helps. Love & light, Reba

  • Rooboo2015

    Thank you, i needed to read this today. I knew how to break away – but then forgot for a while. This helped me to remember what I need to do to be authentic.

  • Reba Linker

    Hi Rooboo – You’re welcome. That’s the process:r remember, forget, remember again, until we KNOW! Keep being YOU! Much love, Reba

  • Cameron

    Thank you for replying and sharing all of that, Reba! Your words are validating to the work I’ve already started doing around living my life my way and not waiting for my dad’s approval. Love and light back at ya, Cameron

  • maxy

    I can relate to this too. To cut story short. Born into a broken family. Mom was adopted and raised by adoptive family. For no good reason and only God knows why, she had depression when she was young. Matrimonial path only leads to despair. She was divorced twice. Mom fell into a mental breakdown. Disowned by her own parents,siblings, adoptive siblings and relatives. Forced to fend for ourselves ever since. ‘Love you mom, always’. Amen.

  • Reba Linker

    Wow, Maxy. I feel for you and I feel for your Mom. Thank you for sharing your story. Amen Amen to your love for her! xo, Reba

  • I feel so blessed to not to have had that experience. The movie looks great.

  • Rachel Kieffer

    I love how you weave the story of the movie with your own life’s experience and life’s bigger lessons. Living our authentic selves is a journey for us all, isn’t it? It is so important to shed the blame, it is not our fault indeed and that is a liberating notion. I would also add that coming a a realization that it’s not our parents fault could be just as liberating, they did the best they can and loved us in the only way they could figure out with what they have. Doesn’t mean that we don’t get to break free and step away from abusive and harmful relationships but it does mean with do it with love and compassion for us and others.

  • Reba Linker

    That’s such a beautiful point, Rachel. Their wounded-ness informed the parents’ actions, of course, and I have a deep recognition of that as well. I don’t agree with the word ‘love,’ though, in this context; it is a real trigger for me, as the pretense of love and family was a mask for so much that was not love, in my experience. xo, Reba

  • Reba Linker

    You were, indeed, blessed, Suzie. Thank heavens! What would this world be like if we all came out of childhood limping and wounded like that? xo, Reba P.S. – It is such a fun, delightful movie – which is even greater when you think that it manages to genuinely include these very real topics inside what is essentially a rom com..

  • SueKearney

    This, the magic and oh-so-important words:

    On the day that I accepted my family as it was, and realized that I
    wasn’t responsible, and rejected the stories they told. On that day I
    reclaimed my right to my truth about what happened, what I felt, what I
    thought, and what I experienced.

    Exactly, and oh boy, that takes time and work and more time!

    Thanks for taking me back to a favorite movie, shot in my old neighborhood of Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, and in the real Cammareri Bakery.

  • Reba Linker

    No way! It is a WONDERFUL movie, though this is not exactly an unbiased movie review! Thank you so much, Sue, and you are so right, this process “takes time and work and more time!” When will we be done? xo, Reba

  • Josee Smith

    For years, my siblings and I bowed to my mother’s every command in order to keep the peace. It wasn’t until a few years ago now that I began voicing my thoughts on the matter with my one sister and brother. We agreed that it was time to bring this to an end and so began to let her know in a very loving way that we all have ideas, opinions and feelings. Sure has made a world of difference.

  • Reba Linker

    Dear Josee, How wonderful – thank you for sharing this. So many aspects of this are wonderful: getting in consensus with the siblings, speaking up, and…she listened. To me, that’s about as good as it gets. Good on you! xo, Reba

  • Natasha Botkin

    Very Powerful post! I resognate as I was born into a family who was bothered by the beautiful child who was bestowed to help bring out their inner light. In other words be more “normal and like us.” I am so over that and have reclaimed my truth and they can accpet me as I am or not; ultimately the decision is up to them and I am at peace with it.

  • Reba Linker

    Beautiful, Natasha! You know your own beauty and you’re claiming it and that is so awesome! xoxox, Reba

  • I saw this movie way back in Copenhagen with my Mom, Reba and essentially we went to see Nicholas Cage and Cher. 🙂 I do remember way back (I was in my early 20s and my Mom was younger than I am now), remarking to my Mom that Johnny was a wimp and who would marry a Mama’s boy? Mom agreed. 3 decades later, I’m reading your observations and thinking, does it take life experience and maturity to understand the reality of Johnny’s existence and perhaps he’s not a wimp but a victim of a domineering mother? My parents were great but now I wonder what if Johnny had had a normal grounded mother instead of a clingy one. Insightful post, Reba, you’ve got me thinking.

  • Reba Linker

    Thank you for sharing that, Vatsala. Yes, Johnny is played for laughs and I felt exactly the same way – we are mostly drawn to the hot romance of the Cher and Nicolas Cage characters, me no less than anyone else. Only this time I felt like I was inside Johnny’ experience. Yes, it does take maturity to have compassion for those we don’t like, and yes, Johnny would have been a completely different person if he had parents who helped him stand on his own two feet rather than stay leaning on them. xo, Reba

  • Roslyn Tanner Evans

    I didn’t grow up with narcissistic parents. I grew up in foster care where my natural helpless mother became a part of the foster family that ultimately raised me. Dad was absent.. It gave me other issues to work through. Fancy that!. But to think you got all this from one of my favorite movies. I would never have thought or connecting these psychological dynamics because it had a different & profound impact on me.
    Raised in a working class environment, I was not exposed to culture. When I heard the music in the movie, I was spellbound & got goosebumps. I didn’t know what it was. I went to see the movie again, waiting to see if the same thing happened to me. IT DID. I found out it was Puccini’s “La Boehme”. I went to the opera, that opera 10x & each time I heard that aria & a few others, same effect. I tried seeing a few others but only Puccini’s music has that effect on me. So ‘Moonstruck’ introduced me to a world of music, I might never have known. How amazing is that.

  • Reba Linker

    wow – Roslyn – I am so glad that this story brought out that amazing story of your own. I got goosebumps just reading it. Thank you! xo, Reba

  • This was a wonderful and profound post, Reba. It amazes me how you saw so much of yourself in the family relationships in the movie “Moonstruck”. I remember the movie very well, but would never have seen the parallels you took from it. I’ve been hearing more about narcissistic men and yet, I don’t know if I have ever personally had an experience of this in my life. Definitely not my father, who you’ll read about next week in my tribute piece. And certainly not my mother either. My former husband had a lot of insecurities and bathed in the accolades of being a wonderful singer, but I still am not sure about calling that narcissistic. How unique all of our journeys are, and if we believe we choose our parents, we can look at the lessons we ultimately learn, providing we learn them, as part of our destiny path in this lifetime. Thanks for sharing so much of your heart and soul in all your posts and my wish is that this piece encourages others to look more closely at where this lives in their lives, and to give themselves the gift of breaking free.

  • Reba Linker

    Thank you, dear Beverley. I am glad for you that you didn’t have this experience growing up. I believe, like you, that we choose our parents, but that doesn’t make our experience any less shocking! But I do see how breaking free of so many false ideas that I inherited as part of my upbringing is part of the gift I offer the world and my clients – there has been so much to learn from it! Honestly, when I first saw the movie I saw nothing but the romance and humor – only when I saw the last scene all on its own did these themes become transparent to me. It’s part of the movie’s brilliance that there is such depth underlying the charming surface. xo, Reba

  • Andrea Patten

    What a powerful post. Your analysis of the movie, your love of dance, your writing… You’ve got me thinking about the importance of art in our lives. Maybe not what you intended but useful to me as I head off to a film festival to learn some new stuff. <3

  • Reba Linker

    Awesome, Andrea. I always love the dialogue that happens around a post – how each person can take what they need from it. Have an amazing time – a film festival sounds pretty awesome! Thanks for joining the discussion!
    xo, Reba

  • DivaCarla

    I don’t know if my grandparents were narcissists, but I do no my father suffered his entire life from feeling unloved by them and trying and failing to win their love. It’s is miracle we learn to love ourselves at all and parent and treasure ourselves. Powerful post, Reba.

  • Reba Linker

    Interesting, Carla. No one should have to perform in order to be loved. Of course, many people spend their lives doing just that. Yes, indeed, it is a miracle we find our way through! xo, Reba

  • K’Lee Banks

    Thank you for such a thorough and thought-provoking review and commentary on this movie. I have not seen it, but your review makes me want to, so I can look for all the nuances you identified.

    I am blessed to NOT have had this experience, as my parents – especially my Dad – were very much the opposite, as humble, servant-minded Christians, and they led by example for my siblings and me.

  • Reba Linker

    Thanks, K’Lee, I’m glad for you to not have had this experience. I often wonder what that must be like! You will love the movie, simply because it is a very lovable movie – aside from all the nuances that I picked up on. Let me know how you like it! Best wishes, Reba

  • Laurie Calkhoven

    What an insightful movie review. I love MOONSTRUCK, but now I’ve seen it with new eyes. And this sentence really resonated with me:

    “To narcissistic parents, a child is not a full-fledged individual, but rather a character in their story, and the roles they offer their offspring are severely limited.”

    I experience this not with a parent, but with a sibling. I’m working on not letting her be a trigger, and your post will help me heal and stand firm.

  • Reba Linker

    Beautiful, Laurie. So glad this post helped! xo, Reba

  • Colleen

    Cameron- my mother was always disappointed that I have never been her illusion of me. I have been fortunate enough to have many wonderful people in my life who love and accept me for my true self. I was always a bit sad whenever I saw my mother, though. After her death I learned about her own upbringing and early life and I can understand why she wanted me to be the fulfillment of her own dreams. I would not be the person I am today if I had not had the experience of not being seen and heard as myself. There is a gift- I appreciate each person’s unique beauty and gifts in a way that I probably would not if i had been seen and heard myself.
    The only way to deal with it is to shine your light! Be true to yourself, love and appreciate who you truly are, Cameron ,and enjoy the gift of your life and being YOU!

  • Colleen

    Thank you for inspiring so many illuminating comments, Reba!

  • Reba Linker

    You’re welcome, Colleen! I am grateful to all here for sharing so openly and honestly about their own stories.

  • Thank you for sharing this profoundly deep post so authentically. There are lessons to be learned here both for children and for parents. I am so pleased to have read it.

  • Reba Linker

    Thanks, Elise. I am so glad it spoke to you.

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  • Kris

    Your words really touched my heart and you reminded me that i am not alone in my situation but i’m really struggling right now. I just finished college so my parents expect me to work for the company business. I want to help ofcourse but i don’t feel inspired or passionate about it(it’s been a month). It just feels like i’m “required” to do that too just like going to school. It doesn’t feel like that’s what i want. But i couldn’t tell them because i’m scared and i don’t know what to do after i tell them that. So there’s no reason at all to tell them. Since they would be asking me “what do i want then?” And my answer would be “i dont know” then they would just maybe push me or talk me out to working for them again. And also the fact that i still live under their roof so i feel like i dont have the right to demand anything. Like time off at work or not to go to work for them at all. It’s just so hard because all my life i did all the good stuff and obey them and i dont understand why i cant do this for myself. Even though i have this older sister who was the black sheep in our family and she disobeyed them most of the time when she was in my age before (but she’s stable now.) I wonder if i should just rebel too but i dont want that because that doesn’t feel right either and i don’t want to do it. I am just so desperate to look for an answer and to get through this chapter in my life. It seems to me i just have to continue this but i know that i am unhappy.

  • Dear Kris,
    I feel your pain! One of the hardest things we’ll ever have to do is to do what we truly wish to do. This is especially challenging for those who, like myself and perhaps you as well, have been so thoroughly trained to prioritize what OTHER people wish for us to do/be/feel, etc. Comes a point, however, that we must decide – whose life is this, anyway?

    What I admire so much about what you wrote is the awareness you show for your own feelings and needs. You are wise to carefully ponder what feels right for you, and when to share your feelings and how create an ‘exit strategy’ that will serve you best. Whether that means researching other career options first or just blurting it out one day and letting the chips fall where they may will be up to you to decide. Both could work!

    I wish you the very best. Believe it or not, you are on your way to self-determination and self-actualization. If you’d ever like to have a personal consult with me all that info is available on my website.

    Blessings, Reba

  • Kris

    Thank you so much for your reply it really matters to me. I didn’t realize until now when you said “whose life is this anyway?” It woke me up and gave me a ting in my head to focus on myself now. I know it’s difficult i really don’t know what’s the next step but now i know that this is my life… God bless you more on your career. Thanks so much again ♥️

  • You’re welcome! Best, best wishes!

  • Dante

    Hello, Crystal!
    Im also in the process of trying to break free. Lately, since i started reading articles on TinyBuddha and Brené Brown’s books along with Scott Peck’s book ‘The road less traveled’ I feel like I start to awaken. ive started noticing the behavioral patterns of my parents and how they never ever ever truly asked me what I wanted to do in life and who I wanted to be. They never ask for my thoughts, my contribution. They just ask me do this, do that, bla, bla bla. As im trying to work with my father in his company, when I told him Im learning djing and later im gonna move on to production to create my own music, his first response was – What’s gonna happen to the company? I was dumbfounded. I felt guilty for doing what I love, what I crave for. So I just wanted to say that you’re not alone. We’ll see how the situation will unravel. Like you, im done being controlled. Maybe my way isnt gonna be the best way they have thought for me, but it’s gonna be my way.

  • I am so grateful for all the heartfelt comments here on this post. Thank you all for sharing your stories and your hearts. I am so honored to be part of a great healing of what has bee, up to now, a very private suffering. Good luck and best wishes to you all.

  • monta

    DANG! I’m in exactly the same spot as you are!!!!!!!!! Family business, expectation of me working for them, not really excited about it etc etc etc. crazy. the differences is that my younger sister is the rebel in our family. So she’s safe and emotionally stable

  • Crystal W

    Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone. I’m sorry to hear that your father had said such a thing :/ Live your dreams girl! You chose such a creative and expressive career and you will be amazing <3, Stay strong and know too that you are not alone and we will both get through this!

  • Della Monk

    I am the eldest child of a person experience as false. My mother’s behaviour is manipulative , but noone else can see it. It is in that blindness that she takes refuge, but I want no more part of it. Unfortunately, my daughter, her granddaughter, is also part of the equation. If I had my druthers, I would never see my other again. How can I do that and not harm my daughter in the process? They love each other.

  • Teri Miller

    Oh Reba, I love this article and I am definitely watching the movie again with this new perspective! You are an amazing writer. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reba Linker

    Thank you so much, Teri. I’d love to hear from you how it looks when you’ve seen it again after reading this. I believe that these themes are ‘hidden in plain sight’ and once you are aware of them it will be hard to ‘un-see’ them. Even so, it is still and always will be an adorable, romantic and heartwarming movie.

  • Reba Linker

    I’m sorry about your dilemma, Delia, and I truly applaud your loving concern for your daughter’s happiness as well as your own. I hope that there are ways for you to lesson your contact, while still allowing them to have their own relationship. Best wishes with this situation.

  • A

    TEN SIGNS YOU MAY HAVE HAD CONTROLLING PARENTS

    When you were growing up, your parents…

    1. Overscrutinized your eating, appearance, hobbies, or social life

    2. Pressured you with perfectionistic expectations or unattainable standards

    3. Forbade you from questioning or disagreeing with them

    4. Discouraged you from expressing anger, fear or sadness around them

    5. Violated your privacy

    6. Intimidated, manipulated or overpowered you

    7. Discouraged your efforts to experiment and think for yourself

    8. Gave you no say in household rules and responsibilities

    9. Seemed unaware of the pain they caused you or others

    10. Seemed unwilling to admit they were wrong

    If your parents were controlling, click here for helpful resources

    Information about finding a psychotherapist

    From If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Take Your Place in the World.
    Published by HarperCollins. Copyright © Dan Neuharth, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

    Back to Top

    TEN SIGNS YOUR PARENTS MAY STILL CONTROL YOU

    Even today as an adult, you…
    1. Feel disloyal when acting or feeling differently than your parents

    2. Feel easily annoyed or impatient with your parents without knowing why

    3. Feel confused by parental mixed messages

    4. Are afraid to express your true feelings around your parents

    5. Feel intimidated or belittled by your parents

    6. Worry more about pleasing your parents than being yourself

    7. Find it hard to emotionally separate from your parents

    8. Talk to your parents more out of obligation than choice

    9. Get tense when you think about being around your parents

    10. Want to temporarily reduce or sever contact with a parent

    If your parents still try to control you, click here for helpful resources

    Information about finding a psychotherapist

    From If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Take Your Place in the World.
    Published by HarperCollins. Copyright © Dan Neuharth, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

    Back to Top

    TEN SIGNS EARLY UNHEALTHY CONTROL MAY STILL AFFECT YOU

    In your adult life, you…
    1. Feel perfectionistic, driven, or rarely satisfied

    2. Feel intimidated or easily angered around controlling people

    3. Lose yourself in relationships by automatically putting others’ needs first

    4. Find it hard to relax, laugh or be spontaneous

    5. Feel as if you are under scrutiny even when no one else is around

    6. Have an eating disorder or addictive behaviors

    7. Have trouble finding a spiritual belief that feels right

    8. Expect others to hurt, judge, or take advantage of you

    9. Have harsh “inner critics”

    10. Have trouble asserting yourself or feeling proud of your accomplishments

    If early control is still affecting you, click here for helpful resources

    Information about finding a psychotherapist

    From If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Take Your Place in the World
    Published by HarperCollins. Copyright © Dan Neuharth, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

    Back to Top

    TEN SIGNS YOU MAY BE OVERCONTROLLING YOUR CHILDREN

    In raising your children, you…
    1. Micromanage their eating, appearance, hobbies, or social life

    2. Give affection as a reward but withdraw it as punishment

    3. Criticize your children far more than you praise them

    4. Violate your children’s privacy

    5. Override, discount or ridicule your children’s strong emotions

    6. Forbid your children from asking questions or disagreeing with you

    7. Are unwilling to admit your mistakes in parenting

    8. Believe that you own your children and that they have to earn your love

    9. See your children’s desires for independence and autonomy as a personal rejection

    10. Inflict physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional abuse on your children

    If you are concerned you are overcontrolling your children, click here for helpful resources

    Information about finding a psychotherapist

    From If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Take Your Place in the World
    Published by HarperCollins. Copyright © Dan Neuharth, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

    Back to top

  • A

    I been going through so much abused and controlling from mom and lot more for 17 years and in still going through it todAy am 26 now and she think I can’t do nothing for myself and put me down talk negatively about me everyday goes behind telling my business to everyone and denied it, when I try to defend myself she still treat me like am nothing and then when I give in she be happy to have power over me and everything I don’t talk to her about nothing is sad everyone believe her then me she also gping behind my back trying to get guardianship over me.

  • Reba Linker

    I am so sorry you are experiencing this. It is really a tough spot when someone who you have every right to expect to support you is pulling you down instead. It helps to remember that the stories she tells about you and about the world are really about HER not YOU. They are her stories – don;t make them yours. I hope you can find strength and support to live your own life in happiness, free from her fears and anxieties.

  • Someone

    Thank you.

  • purplerain25

    Wow, thank you I read your story and was amazed by your strength and resilience. I’m very happy that you are allowing yourself to love yourself. You do deserve to be happy.
    XOXO.