Narcissistic mothers cause pain, but there’s much you can do to reclaim your life and thrive despite having one.
As a psychotherapist in private practice, I’m often asked, “What can you do when you have a narcissistic mother?”
It is a poignant question because we’re all an extension of our mother in some way or another. You, for instance, may have similar physical features or personality characteristics that make people realize you are a product of your mom.
But, how do you protect yourself when your narcissistic mother, the very woman who gave you life or raised you, demands you provide her with the unconditional, one-way love that she feels entitled to…no matter how she treats you?
When this is the case, your narcissistic mother may see you as something that she created with the hope to have a copy of herself for her own amusement. Or, she may see you as an object, like a piece of luggage that should serve her when she needs it and be out of the away when she does not.
If so, you may have been treated with such disrespect and abuse that makes it difficult for you to develop any sort of real relationship with your mother, let alone feel the love towards your mom that she expects you to give. To the outside world, everything may have appeared perfect, but behind closed doors? That’s where the horror was released.
Many a narcissistic mother is aware of her demanding ways and believes everyone should treat her in the fantastical way that she sees herself. She may live in their own little world where her accomplishments, real or fake, are of grand proportions that no one else can live up to.
To this day, her expectations of you may be ever-changing and not truly attainable. If you have a narcissistic mother, you may feel you are never good enough, or that you must compete with your siblings for her approval or affection. And, no matter how much you achieve or strive to accommodate her, you will not measure up to her unrealistic expectations.
Why do narcissistic moms have children?
When a narcissist has a child, it is not for the same reason that others procreate. She does so because she wants that child to satisfy her unmet needs.
These can vary from the need to feel like she will always be loved by you, or the hope she’ll be more bonded to her husband by providing a child, or the belief she’ll never be alone, or to have the illusion of another chance at life and so on.
Some narcissistic mothers essentially want a real-life extension of themselves, only to be deeply upset about the fact that they did not receive that “mini-me” from you. If, due to being a child, you could not meet her needs, your mother may have withdrawn from you or have become demeaning, critical, and manipulative. In short, it wasn’t acceptable for you to be a child because a child is, by its very nature, needy and “perfectly imperfect.”
The narcissistic mother’s love is typically volatile and conditional. Below are three common roles in which the sons and daughters of narcissistic mothers often find themselves cast.
The roles can be projected by the narcissist onto one sibling then the next and the roles can last for moments or years. Even more confusing, you may have been cast in different roles at different time in your childhood. Read below to try to recall what roles you played and when you were cast.
This role involves a great deal of neglect. Your narcissistic mother was simply not aware of, or interested in, your needs. You could be sent to school with clothing too big or small, dirty, or unmatched.
You may have been teased by other kids because you did not have enough positive attention paid to you at home to know what was socially acceptable behavior. You often felt unlovable or unworthy because you were not treated as inherently valuable.
Nothing you did was ever good enough. What may have satisfied your narcissistic mother one day could disappoint her the next.
If you expressed you felt your mother treated you unfairly, she might have led you to believe that you were crazy and ungrateful. The “love” and “thoughtfulness” she gave you through her constant criticism was to be treasured.
If you did something of value and worth, you may have been cut down and made to believe that your accomplishments had no meaning in your narcissistic mother’s eyes. Or, you could have been elevated and bragged about to the point of objectification. (See Chosen, Hero or Golden child below.)
Chosen, Hero or Golden Child
To be the Chosen, Hero or Golden child of a narcissistic mother is usually the complete opposite of the scapegoat child. You are worshipped and idolized by your mother from the moment you are born.
You are the one person in her life that can do nothing wrong and every accomplishment, no matter how small, deserves a parade in her eyes. You’re a representation of the best of her, the golden child.
You may become even more important than her spouse in a sometimes provocative and psychologically seductive way.
Lost Child, Scapegoat & Chosen, Hero or Golden Child in a Narcissistic Family System:
Many times, there’s a golden child and a scapegoat in the narcissistic family. The golden child is a “favorite” of the mother’s choosing. Then there’s the scapegoat, the one who gets the blame for everything, the one who can never be as good as the mother or the golden child.
The scapegoat never measures up in the mother’s eyes. She can win awards, get good grades, get into a great school, but it goes unnoticed or unacknowledged.
If it’s noted, it’s usually done so in a way that makes the mother look good, saying that everything the child has learned is because of the mother’s parenting efforts.
The Lost Child will sometimes be relieved to hide from the narcissistic mother and at other times be pulled into more attention getting roles.
Why Don’t Narcissistic Mothers Change?
Narcissistic moms blame everyone else, and too often their children, for the consequences their own self absorbed choices have caused. It often falls to friends and family members to point out the extreme oddity of the narcissistic mother’s ways and recommend treatment. Even when offered help, a narcissist is more likely to be offended than to seek treatment.
Ironically, though the people around the narcissistic mother can identify the source of their suffering, the narcissist does not believe she is the one who should change.
Therefore, it is unlikely your mother sought treatment for narcissism. In contrast, she may have put you in treatment with the hope that you would become easier to deal with.
Children and spouses are the ones who often suffer most, not the narcissist themselves, because the narcissist doesn’t feel that their chronically self-absorbed behavior is just that. Quite the opposite, actually. The narcissistic mother feels that everyone else is at fault when things go wrong.
As a child, you had to learn from very early on how to please your mother enough to survive. You may have grown up to think that nothing you ever do is good enough and that you are not worthy of the love you desire.
Narcissism, at its extreme, is a mental disorder called Narcissistic Personality Disorder, (NPD), characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, fantasies of success, power, and physical attractiveness that the person may or may not possess, a constant need for attention and admiration, and obsessive self-interest. These are the obvious symptoms that people think of when they think of the term “narcissism.”
There are a cluster of personality disorders, including NPD, that are on the narcissistic spectrum described by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and they include Borderline Personality Disorder as well as Histrionic Personality Disorder.
These disorders describe different chronic behavioral patterns often exhibited by a narcissistic mother who may not even be aware of how she is treating you.
In sum, the first step in dealing with a narcissist is to identify the repetitive hurtful behaviors rooted in how you were cast in the roles identified above. Accept that your narcissistic mother is highly resistant to change. Then, learn how to best respond to her negative behaviors in order to protect your happiness.
Why Narcissists Have Children
Why do narcissists even have kids in the first place?
I’m going to cut straight to the chase on this one. Narcissists do not have children for the same reason that emotionally healthy people do.
They have them because they need more mirrors, more images to remind themselves of how great they are and how they brought someone into the world that is like them.
Unfortunately for the narcissistic parent, this isn’t the case 99.9% of the time because as children age, they develop their own sense of self and their own personality apart from their parents. Then they become more of a burden than a blessing on their narcissistic parent.
Some narcissists become parents out of accident or because of an ill-thought out plan they created to have someone there to love and admire them without having to give it back in return.
They’re looking for the narcissistic supply which they try to obtain from anyone and everyone. They believe that having a child will give them an endless supply because their child must love them and has to be a part of their lives, while they’re young at least.
Narcissists see their kids as someone they can put their name on, a product that they can put out into the world with their branding all over it. They use their children to gain self-esteem and as someone they can easily walk all over. They want their children to take care of them and reverse the roles of how parent-child interactions should be.
Narcissistic parents try to control their children in every facet of their lives.
They try to keep their children from growing up and gaining their own identity, fearing it will lead their children to leave them and go on to live their own lives.
Narcissistic parents try to control their children in four different ways:
- Guilt-driven: They make their children feel guilty and making them feel like a burden on the narcissistic parent. They say things like, “I sacrificed my life, my body, for you…”
- Dependence-driven: The narcissistic parent makes their child feel that they could not go on living without their child in their life. They tell their kids that they need them and that they cannot take care of themselves, their lives, and their well-being by themselves.
- Goal-driven: I like to call this the Tiger Mom Effect. This means that the narcissistic parent, not necessarily the mother (although it usually is), is always striving or making their child strive to be the best no matter what and no matter if the child is truly interested in the goal or not. They live vicariously through their child and ride on the coattails of their achievements. They may say things like, “We have a goal we need to achieve…”
- Explicit: This type of control is based on negative repercussions if their child does not do what they want or say. They withhold rewards and give excessive punishment if they do not get their way. This can be very draining on the child because they feel that they can never do anything right.
Most narcissistic mothers see motherhood as a burden and like to let it be known how much work it is. They do not take into account that children are not merely mirrors of themselves and that they are actual human beings with wants, needs, and feelings different than their own.
They often pick a favorite, or a golden child, who can do no wrong and grows up with unrealistic expectations of praise and worth. They also have children that are the scapegoats, the ones who all the blame is put on and are never worthy enough no matter how great their achievements may be.
They play the children off of each other for their own amusement, which causes riffs between the siblings that may not be mended easily. The narcissistic parent is always comparing the children and blaming them for his or her shortcomings.
Narcissistic parents treat their children in different ways. They either try to control them, ignore them completely, or engulf them and make it so they cannot develop into their own self.
A narcissistic mother fails to treat her child as an authentic person with wants and needs which may not match up with hers. She is completely self-centered and needs the attention to be all about her no matter what. If her child’s accomplishment is something to be admired, she’ll take all the credit for it while at the same time telling their child that they could’ve done better.
Parenthood is never about anyone else but them. For most people, having a child means having someone to take care of and love, not the other way around. A narcissist cares about no one but themselves and not even having a child can change their mindset.
There are many faces of narcissism. Some of these may not be scientific or politically correct terms, but I feel that if you have a narcissistic mother in your life, you may be able to recognize some of these and nod your head in agreement.
- The Time Hostage: Your mom gets mad at you when you need to reschedule but assumes you will reschedule with her and/or repeatedly cancels on you last minute.
- The Quietly Self-Absorbed Narcissist: She’s socially withdrawn and odd thinking, with morose self-doubts and a relentless search for power and has fantasies of great achievements.
- The Nice Narcissist: She’s nice. She just needs you to agree with her at all times or she won’t like you.
- The Victim: She is unable to take accountability for her choices. She looks at a problem and blames it on something out of her control instead of searching for anything in the situation she can change.
- The Attacker: She comes at you with attacks to see if you admit to anything or, as a way of expressing her fears.
- The Downer: She is so busy talking about why everything is lacking that she isn’t emotionally present to you.
- The Assessor: It is her job to critique how you measure up and point out anything you could improve on, not to give at least equal time to telling you what you do right.
- The Credit Taker: She takes credit for everything, whether she deserves it or not. She passes the blame onto others, whether justified or not. She’s always right, never wrong.
- The Jealous Narcissist: If you have it, she wants it or will strive to make it seem worth less than it is and devalue it.
- The Competitor: She lets you know you may be good but she is better, or prettier, or smarter, or more accomplished than you’ll ever be.
- The Operator: She work’s her own agenda at all times. She’s walled off in her plans for you and everyone else whether you agree with her or not.
- The Fading Beauty: She is not handling the aging process well and looks at your comparable youth as an affront.
- The Beauty Queen: She identifies herself strongly with her attractiveness and may have been the homecoming queen, the best dressed, or known for her beauty. She’s especially bothered if you don’t try to make the most of your looks.
- The Innocent Narcissist: She’s highly defensive and extremely hostile but masks it behind a “poor me” facade of vulnerability.
- The Enraged Narcissist: She screams to get her needs met and projects rage without a filter, not caring who sees it. She doesn’t apologize for her actions.
- The Vengeful Narcissist: She enjoys inflicting pain on others and getting back at them if she does not get her way.
- The Passive Aggressive Narcissist: She sulks and gives the silent treatment and plots how to punish those who don’t give her what she wants. She is vindictive and capable of becoming a stalker.
- The Stealth Narcissist: She fakes an interest in other people and their needs and knows that acting concerned with get her what she wants.
- The Cruel Narcissist: She is never fair and her discipline shows that. She knowingly causes you pain and enjoys knowing that you are miserable.
- The Character Assassinator: She is always trying to tarnish your reputation by lying, exaggerating, or manipulating the facts to make you look bad and to make her look good.
- The Stingy Narcissist: Gifts, compliments, advice and money are given, but look out when you inevitably fail.
- The Wounded Narcissist: She feels victimized and the world is against her. She needs you to take care of her and aid in her every want and need.
- The Disdainful Narcissist: You are treated as though you are less than what she expected, a disappointment or failure.
- The Scapegoating Narcissist: Her life would be better if you were better, or whoever she’s choosing to scapegoat was better. And it will not be better until this person changes.
- The User Narcissist: She takes advantage of you and treats you as more of an employee than anything else. She uses you to get ahead in her own life.
- The Boundary-less Narcissist: There is no difference between you and her, you are an extension of her and therefore she has no limits. She intrudes on your space and looks through your personal belongings. She embarrasses you constantly.
- The Amnesia Narcissist: No matter what healthy requests you’ve made, it is as if you have to repeat yourself every time. For example, “Please don’t hug me or kiss me, it makes me feel uncomfortable,” is ignored.
- The Needy Narcissist: “You don’t give me enough calls” or attention. She wants more from you than anyone could deliver.
- The Time-Sucker Narcissist: You could spend every minute with this person and they would still feel neglected.
- The Mind-Reader Narcissist: You didn’t say it, you didn’t think it, and yet they have read into something and insist it is true.
- The Clairvoyant Narcissist: You didn’t say it, you didn’t think it, but once they have said it you realize it’s true and it’s usually something negative about them (can cause identity confusion for you).
- The Touchy-Feely Narcissist: You are expected to tolerate her touching you however and whenever they want.
- The Holiday Narcissist: You don’t exist unless it is their birthday or a holiday where she feels the need for family time.
- The Glamour Narcissist: She is all about making herself look good. She buys the most expensive clothes, gets her hair and nails done, and doesn’t care about the amount of money she spends.
- The Rockstar Narcissist: She believes that she is the center of attention and it should always be that way. She’s the main attraction and wants everyone to idolize her, even if she really has no talents or reason to be in the limelight.
- The World Traveler Narcissist: She brags about places she’s been and makes up stories about the places she hasn’t been, but tells people she has. She has grandiose fantasies about how worldly she is.
- The Professor/Elite Intellectual Narcissist: She is brainy and seeks admiration for her intelligence. She uses her intellect to put others down and make them feel stupid.
- The Stage Mom/The Promoter: She lives her fantasies through you. She makes you do the things she wish she could [still] do and believes your achievements are her own.
- The Fashionista: She tells you how to dress and what not to wear—often when you’re already wearing it!
- Miss Manners: She still meticulously points out your etiquette failures– from how you eat to what family events you should attend.
- The Publicist: She brags about you to others but is excessively critical of you when you are alone.
- The Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde Narcissist: She is nice in public, but mean under her breath or when alone.
- The Forever Young Narcissist: When did you become more mature than your mother? How old is she, really, emotionally?
- The Hot Mama Narcissist: Sexualized and distracted.
- The Lovesick Narcissist: Always chasing that ideal mate or trying to win the affection of her partner.
- The Enabler Mom: She is too distracted with your rebel siblings’ problems or her partner’s addictive behaviors and seems to get a bit of a rush or power out of rescuing.
- The Social Butterfly: Everyone in town loves her, she is a generous host, but she can’t be bothered to make time for you.
- The Hypochondriac Narcissist: She believes something’s physically wrong with her, you should be checking in on her. And, if you don’t, as luck would have it, she unfortunately has something real going on every once in awhile. Or, it’s nothing a reputable doctor will confirm but she’s fighting off her cancer, leprosy, etc. with special treatments she’s managed to find through her own sheer will to survive.
- The Financially-Challenged Narcissistic: She just needs a little bit of help for this umpteenth self created crisis and she’s sorry she hasn’t paid you back yet for the last time you lent her money.
- The Martyr Narcissist: Her refrain is “How Can You Do This to Me?” She tells you that you make her miserable, suicidal, isolated, or some other negative emotion. You are told that, in one way or another, you control her emotions and that if you would just do what she wanted she would be fine.
- The BFF (Best Friends Forever) Narcissist: You are her best friend, she doesn’t know what she would do without you, unless she had a better offer, in that case you’ll just have to wait until the next time she’s lonely. You are brought out like a doll when she wants attention then ignored when she doesn’t need it (but seriously, when doesn’t she need it?). This is also a description of what is experienced when someone is another’s “narcissistic supply.”
- The Expensive Narcissist: She has ruined your credit through manipulation to use your credit.
- The Criminal Narcissist: Some narcissists exploit their children or others through identity theft, mismanagement of trust funds, and fraudulent financial dealings. You may or may not have been the target of her crime, but she doesn’t see the rule of law applies to her. She may have Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is a pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others. As if the narcissism wasn’t enough!
If you found this article, I encourage you to read my free eBook The 7 Steps to Recovering from a Narcissistic Mother.