Practicing kindness, nurturement and encouragement is the essence of being a good parent. As children, we depend on our parents to provide a secure environment where we can learn to trust others and feel fulfilled.

Narcissistic mothers fail in this respect. Their actions are typically self-serving and they lack empathy for the needs of their children. This can stunt child’s emotional development and lead to severe long-term consequences.

What is narcissism?

Narcissism is characterized by a self-centered approach to life, a lack of empathy for others, and an overblown sense of grandiosity [1]

Those who persistently exhibit these characteristics alongside a compulsive need for attention and admiration, interpersonal struggles, and displays of excessive volatility can be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) [1].

Technically speaking, a person must display five or more of the following characteristics to be diagnosed with NPD [2].

  • Baseless sense of self-importance and talent
  • Fantastical delusions of unlimited wealth, achievements, influence, beauty and power
  • A compulsive need for unconditional admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Using others for their own success
  • Lack of empathy
  • Belief they are special and ought to only socialize with other perceived ‘special’ people
  • Arrogance
  • Regularly envious of others and a belief that others are envious of them [2].

Warning signs of a narcissistic mother

Lack of empathy

Most parents suffer when their child is in pain. They are attuned their child’s thoughts, needs and fears and try to respond in a compassionate manner.

A narcissistic mother can regularly act cold or oblivious towards their child. She will typically not even try to understand their child, only engaging with them when she feels it may benefit her.

For example, research indicates a mother exploiting two of her disabled children [3]. She neglects to use the funding provided to support their quality of life, instead using it for her own financial benefit [3]

Attaching her children’s identity to herself

A narcissistic mother can diminish their child’s personal identity. Anything positive you do is seen as the work of the mother. Her role in raising you and the genes she passed on are lauded as the key reasons for your success.

She may claim credit for other people’s impact on your journey too. For example, your teachers or sports coaches – she may talk about how much she paid/how much time she spent researching so you could achieve.

Conversely, anything you may do that does not please your narcissistic mother will be rejected and she will disassociate herself from you.  

Pits children against each other

A narcissistic mother will pit her children against one another to manipulate and control their behavior. For example, she may dote on one child whilst snapping at the other to be more like them. This damages the relationship between siblings and teaches the children to derive self-worth by comparing themselves to others.

Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse characterized by an individual purposefully misrepresenting the truth in order to alter another person’s perception of reality. This makes them easier to control.

Narcissistic mothers can gaslight their children in numerous ways. For example, when confronted about repeated bouts of criticism, a narcissistic mother may tell you you’re overreacting or that it was ‘just a joke’ and you ought to ‘toughen up’.

Alternatively, they may claim that you’re misremembering the incidents in question or deny they happened altogether. They may then seek to calm you, presenting themselves as the one person you can rely on, reinforcing their position of control.

Mother-child rivalry

A narcissistic mother may scold her child for outdoing her or drawing attention away from her. She will not celebrate your talents or achievements unless she’s instructed you to do so for her gain. Instead, she may criticize you for intentionally seeking to outperform her to make her feel bad.

How do narcissistic mothers affect their children?

The effects of being raised by a narcissistic mother will depend on how long you spent being raised by her, how severe her NPD was and if you had any positive support in your life. In many instances, abuse suffered from a narcissistic mother can lead to long-term implications [4].

Here are nine effects a narcissistic mother can have on their child:

  • Trouble setting boundaries and speaking up for yourself - Narcissistic mothers punish their children for stating their wants and standing up for themselves. This can lead to you bending to the will of others, constantly prioritizing what they want over what you want.
  • Low self-esteem – Being constantly criticized and shamed takes its toll on victims of narcissistic abuse. It can lead to you developing low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.
  • High self-doubt – Exposure to gaslighting from a narcissistic mother can make you constantly second guess yourself and lack trust in your own decision-
  • Constantly being on your guard and fearing upsetting people – Stems from years of trying to predict the mood of your narcissistic mother and adjust your behavior to shield yourself from criticism and avert conflict. This behavior is reproduced throughout your life: you are perpetually watchful and desperate to avoid situations where you may get in trouble or upset others. This constant alertness can be draining and adversely affect your physical health.
  • Needing othersapproval – Children are influenced by their parent’s behavior and may develop a craving for constant admiration, much like their narcissistic mother.
  • Trust issues in relationships – Emotional abuse can make you feel like you can’t trust a partner despite them not doing anything to cause this.
  • Poor emotional intelligence – As you were criticized growing up for expressing your own emotions and taught to ignore how you feel, you may lack the ability to manage them in later life. You may also struggle to read the emotions of others around you.
  • Symptoms of anxiety, PTSD or other mental health disorder– Years of abuse can lead to you developing symptoms of mental health disorders[5]. These can be worked on with a therapist or other mental health professionals.
  • Repetition compulsion – Tosolve the unresolved trauma between you and your narcissistic mother, you may repeatedly try and manufacture dynamics with other people akin to the one between the two of you.

In these situations, you can play the role of the narcissistic abuser or the victim. You may do this in relationships with a romantic partner, a friend or a colleague. This does not resolve the trauma – it increases it – leading to the creation of more toxic interactions in your life.

How to deal with narcissistic mothers

Stop blaming yourself

The criticism and shame you’ve suffered at the hands of your narcissistic mother may well have damaged your self-esteem. You may have always been made to feel as though you deserved the abuse.

You did not; no one deserves to be abused.

It is essential for your recovery that you learn to stop blaming yourself.. Recognizing it was not your fault your mother failed to parent you appropriately is a core step towards recovery. Children deserve nurturement, respect and unconditional love.

Define and set boundaries

Clearly lay out what behavior you will not accept from your narcissistic mother.

This is much easier said than done, especially if you’ve been subjected to narcissistic abuse for a prolonged period.

You may find that when you summon the courage to set boundaries with your narcissistic mother, they try to undermine you, claim they’re overreacting or deny any wrongdoing on their part.

Try not to let them influence you. You know you find their narcissistic behavior problematic, and you have the right to state what you are not OK with.

For example, in a scenario where you have a different opinion, let them know that while you are open to debate, you will not tolerate them insulting you or calling you names. You can inform them that the consequence of doing so will be your departure.

People with NPD are not empathetic; they respond to consequences. They care about how your actions will affect them. If you inform a narcissistic of a boundary, and consistently refuse to tolerate their violation of the boundary, you can reclaim control of your identity and limit their toxic impact on your life.

Take care of yourself

Setting boundaries with your narcissistic mother is one step towards taking better care of yourself.

Recognize the damage done to your nervous system from narcissistic abuse and take steps to heal from the effects of the trauma.

Meditation can be an effective treatment for anxiety [6] and stress brought about by abuse from narcissistic parents. Our brains’ neural pathways can be altered through learning and meditation may facilitate this process [6].

Additionally, leaning on trusted individuals for support can be useful in combating narcissistic abuse. Friends, family members or even colleagues you are close to can provide empathy and succor if you choose to confide in them.

Seeing a therapist can be very helpful as you try to heal. They will listen to your problems and provide professional insights, and together you can form a recovery plan.  

In some scenarios, group therapy can help. Speaking with others who have a mother with NPD can prove reassuring.

Cutting off contact

A no contact approach could be the most beneficial for you in certain cases.

If your narcissistic mother is constantly flouting your boundaries, damaging your emotional state and none of the steps you’ve taken have worked, then cutting off all contact may be best.

Resources:

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Text Revision Dsm-5-tr(5th ed.). Amer Psychiatric Pub Inc.
  2. Zimmerman, M. (2021). Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). MSD Manuals. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/personality-disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder-npd
  3. Day, N. J. S., Townsend, M. L., & Grenyer, B. F. S. (2020). Living with pathological narcissism: a qualitative study. Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40479-020-00132-8
  4. Duffy, J. L., & Jacquin, K. M. (2017). The Psychological and Legal Risks for Children of Narcissistic Parents. Fielding Graduate Institute.
  5. Iram Rizvi Sf, & Najma Najam. (2014). Parental Psychological Abuse toward children and Mental Health Problems in adolescence. Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences.
  6. Krishnakumar, D., Hamblin, M. R., & Lakshmanan, S. (2015). Meditation and Yoga can Modulate Brain Mechanisms that affect Behavior and Anxiety- A Modern Scientific Perspective. Ancient Science, 2(1), 13. https://doi.org/10.14259/as.v2i1.171