The Hovel (Building a Self after Maternal Narcissism)

A small isolated hut in the middle of the words, representing trying to find yourself after maternal narcissism

Where are you?” she asks.

My eyes are closed and I’ve got nothing. But it’s my nature to try to please, so I try and imagine something to tell her.

“I’m in a thick dense forest,” I say and suddenly I see it clearly, “with two or three huge paths leading through it but thousands branching off. They’re the colour of blood and they glow in the gloom.”

They remind me of neural networks with tangled web-like spider veins. The path are tiny, but the red glowing soil under my feet is as hard as rock. They must have been trodden many times. It’s difficult to see if they lead anywhere, because the darkness swallows their light. It is silent here but I know, somehow, that there are eyes. Eyes which can see without light.

“Follow the road” she says, and though I try, it’s as if my feet walk in the same place. I’m trapped with the same view and the same feeling of helplessness, I had as a child, and I can’t seem to get anywhere but here.

She asks me if there’s a guide I can find and immediately I see the spiders. Perhaps they’ve been here all along. They know the way, but they’re poisonous. And they have eyes everywhere. I will never ask them the way. I will never invite them on this journey. And then I see a smaller, silver spider. Just one. A spider spirit. The essence of the all spiders’ patience, craft, and knowledge. This spider has no need for poison to protect her. She is magical. And I follow her.

As we travel together the path gets gradually smaller, into a thin ruby line and at the end of the path is a hovel where all the paths meet. Paths I hadn’t seen before. Most of them are white, almost transparent, as thin as the spiders’ thread, but a few are red and these must be the tail ends of the others I saw before. They were much larger, but they all lead here to this tiny place.

What is here?

Nothing is here. At the core of all things.

Neglect is here. Overgrown plants are here. This hovel has never been occupied, never lived in, loved or cared for. It is dirty and lonely. It is private. It is the core of all things. It is locked and there is no key. What was the purpose of my coming here, I wonder, if I cannot open the door? For I know, above all things, that this is my hovel. I am the owner of this hovel even though I cannot recall its existence. So I sit next to it for a while and ponder. Perhaps my spirit spider can get into the keyhole, I think. But I do not command the spirit spider. She is not mine to command. Yet still she sits in front of me and waits. My eyes adjust to see the finer details of the thicket and I see a flower. A white flower. It doesn’t belong here. I see it and I know that it marks the place where someone-is it me?-buried the key.

I wish the key to my hovel was finer, grander — like a medieval fortress key. But it’s not. It’s ordinary, double ridged and the patina is rusted. It’s just a key, and it is unloved. I wonder what treasure I will find in the hovel. I have come so far to see it. It feels like I’ve tried so many times to get here, I just didn’t know where to look before. Maybe it will be something. Maybe it will be something worthwhile. So I open the door. And I find… nothing.

It’s a hut. No more, no less. It is dry. Oddly warm. Peaceful. It’s also blank. Utterly blank. Devoid of all personality. Whatever I was hoping for is not here. Then I realise. That this hut, is mine. This space is mine. Nobody can find it. Nobody knows about it. It is my core, and no one is allowed here. Not even me anymore. But I think, I think I remember battles here. Battles when I was too small, too weak to defend it.

She says, “Most people have a control panel in there so that they know what survival response is best suited to any situation. Whether you fight, flee or freeze. But without one, you fawn.”

When she says this I imagine the panel in the Starship Enterprise. An advanced civilization. Not this hovel in middle earth. Nothing has advanced here, grown here, evolved here, not since a long time ago. “Most people can regulate their anxiety from their core. You don’t have that ability. So you can’t. And you know why better than I do.”

I do know why. I remember now why I abandoned this place after all the fights. I know why there is no control panel. I tried to build my own but everytime I tried, it was destroyed. That’s how it is when you grow up with a mother who needs to govern your every move. Who views you as an extension of themselves. Whose victories are hers, whilst the failures build your own warped self-image. In such a childhood, your life is not your own. Your feelings are not your own. Fighting, fleeing, freezing are futile. No, you must become someone else. You must fawn, and become her. But when you’re all grown up, that also means there’s no ability to recognise, manage and regulate your emotions. No off-switch for anxiety because you’re out of control. You have no control panel. There is no core to your being because you once sacrificed it just to stay alive.

“Now the work begins,” she says.

‘What if someone finds me again?’ I ask. It has been my finest ability. The transformation of myself into other people. Once a compulsion and now?

“The spider will protect you,” my therapist replies. “That’s why you put her there.”


The Maternal Narcissism Trail


Growing up with a maternal narcissist - a mother who views you as an extension of herself - teaches you to suppress your sense of self in order to be loved. It warps you, stunts you, in such a way as you may never recover. It makes you insecure, hypervigilant and highly susceptible to abusive relationships in adult life. It's horrific, but there is hope, recovery and validation together with others who have experienced it. There's far too many of us.