Narcissistic Mother Enmeshment

by Michelle Piper

Narcissistic mother enmeshment is unlike anything else. It is restrictive, confining, and is not real, unconditional love. As Tom Cruise said in the movie Jerry Maguire, “You complete me.” Of course, he was saying it to a woman he fell in love with, not to his children, and hopefully not because of his own selfish needs. When narcissistic parents utter this line or have that mentality, it’s often enmeshment, not the unconditional love of a parent.

Enmeshment is an extreme form of proximity and intensity in family interactions. The literal meaning of the word is to catch or involve in or act as if in a net or snare. This is what narcissistic parents do to their families. They entangle them and wrap them up in their own web of self-absorption.

When you’re a baby, you begin to form boundaries with your family members, dictated by your parents of course, but that is how you learn them. When you are old enough to communicate your boundaries to others, you do so. However, people who grew up in a family with a narcissistic parent or a narcissistic mother boundary problems develop and all those involved become emotionally less functional. Children become victims of her enmeshment and lack of proper boundaries.

She is the one who created you, why shouldn’t she get to have complete control over what you do and how you live?

From her limited point of view, she believes since she took care of you when you weren’t old enough to care for yourself, you owe it to her to never keep a secret from her or have your own space.

You are an extension of her, a product, an object, a mirror. You are a part of her and she gets to treat you as such.

This is the mentality of an enmeshed narcissistic mother.

Narcissistic mothers know how to overtly and covertly control their family, using tactics that may be unbeknownst to others. She may make you feel guilty if you are not attending to her every need. When you are always on pins and needles around her, it may cause you to grow up to be hypersensitive, especially when it comes to rejection.

To the outside world, this enmeshment may come across as intimacy or your narcissistic mother really cherishes you. But in reality, you were never allowed to develop your own identity separate from her. She was always trying to make you take on her identity, whether she was aware of it or not. She may have also tried to live vicariously through you once you were old enough for her to be jealous or want to be more like you, becoming overly involved in your social life, school, sports, etc.

If you are not careful, this enmeshment from your narcissistic mother can persist an entire lifetime. Your own boundaries may be poorly developed as an adult with inadequate self-protection against others and their manipulations. When you have a narcissistic mother, it is hard to tell where your feelings start and hers end. Her feelings take over you and these feelings can generalize into other relationships you may form in your lifetime.

This emotional blueprint of boundary violation may be something you unintentionally allow in or carry to your other important relationships with a partner, friend, boss, or children.

When you finally realize what is going on, you may (or possibly already have) try to move far away from her, distancing yourself physically to try to heal the emotional wounds which are so deep you may not know where they end. You could move across the country or across the world and it still may not seem far enough. Regardless of distance, the emotional enmeshment my still be there because you never got to find out who you really were outside of your narcissistic mother.

When you were young, you were taught to look through the eyes and hear through the ears of your narcissistic mother.

You were forced to make choices, either consciously or subconsciously, based on whether or not you believed she would approve of your decisions. In time, you lose yourself within the narcissistic family system of enmeshment and fuse yourself with your mother. That sense of wholeness which others get from just being themselves is not something you were allowed to know. Your wholeness came from being psychologically bonded to her.

The abusive patterns, psychologically and perhaps even physically, do not stop until you make the conscious decision to end them yourself. For as long as you allow it, your narcissistic mother will continue to go about this boundary-less relationship and keep you from experiencing your true self and true identity.

Narcissistic mothers know exactly how to keep their children close by their sides, making sure their dependence on her is strong and so they are unable to break the ties between the two of them. She rewards her kids for being like her and meeting her needs. As soon as they do something she does not approve of, such as making their own decisions or being unique, the are condemned and made to feel inadequate. She makes them earn their way back, which many desperately try to do.

In your case, and for all those who have to deal with a narcissistic mother, you have the option of severing the enmeshed ties that have kept you overly vulnerable to your mother for so long.

Set boundaries and set them high. Let these boundaries be known and enforce consequences when boundaries are violated. This is about you, your healing, and your recovery from having a narcissistic mother. Decide what is best for you, your happiness, and your overall life’s contentment. Be the change you need, because your narcissistic mother won’t be.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Dahir February 8, 2013 at 7:47 am

What an enlightening article! This is by far one of the best articles I have ever read on NM. It really made things clear for me and I relate to everything single word you said. So thank you so much.

Dahir

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Dee February 8, 2013 at 6:27 pm

This article is exactly what my life has been about. I’ve been trying to distance myself and it has caused all manner of major problems. Thanks for the encouraging words.

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Susanna April 18, 2013 at 6:37 am

Dear Dee,

It has been nearly four years since I cut off ALL CONTACT with my narcissistic mother. The articles on this site are DEAD-ON. It took me three years of therapy – two to three times a week to realize just what I had lived through.

The end for me was when I ended up in ICU, and my “mother” came to visit me once — stayed 20 minutes and complained about the distance of her drive, and the parking fees! She spent her time at my bedside putting on a “show” for the nurses who came in and out to check on me — and who showed more concern and compassion for me than she ever did. She didn’t ask the nurses or the doctors about my condition — which at the time, was very serious.

I’d been diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs) and the doctors were not sure if I would make it through. Four years later, I am stronger and happy to be away from this wretched woman who was NEVER a parent to me. I knew the truth all along, but I didn’t want to face it.

It is hard to cut off a parent — especially when, like me, it is your only parent. But I am the better for it.

You will be too.

I wish you and everyone else here well.

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Mickey February 17, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Fantastic article. Once again more enlightening insights and clues to dealing with an NM relationship. Still dealing on my end!!

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Roger February 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I think so many ACoNs can relate to this article. I know that I was always made to feel like I was part of her and she acted like she needed me all the time. It was always about my NM and what she wanted. She smothered me sometimes and other times, I was nothing to her. It was so confusing and made me so angry when I finally realized what she was doing to me. Great article!

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Kim March 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Being that I learned of my mother being a narcisst a couple of years ago, My whole life made sense to me of the way my mom treated me. I am the oldest of 5 siblings, and it has not been easy, but I am learning all the time how to deal with it. And of course new problems come about with my mom and I am like, really, this is still going on . I am not sure if I should confront her about being a narcisist.

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Susanna April 18, 2013 at 6:41 am

If you do confront her, prepare yourself for the attack.

That being, her maligning you to friends, family members, everyone. It’s called gaslighting and she will resort to it. Mine did that as well. And there are many of my idiot family members who believed her.

Confronting a narcissistic mother is serious business. First, she will act as if she is being attacked — she will scream and cry and then get angry. Never once thinking about the fact that she has done something to hurt you — never taking responsibility or ownership for what she has done.

If confronting your mother will make you feel better you should. Be strong and have what you want to say ready in your mind. Do not back down. And then be prepared for the inevitable — her rage and revenge.

I wish you well.

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Rebecca April 5, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Thank you for posting this, I have done distancing and taking myself out of the situation, but recently due to what felt like a positive choice I have come back to my mothers home. At first all was well but now the old dynamic is back with a vengeance and my every move is questioned, my friendships shredded, or at least attempts to, and if I’m not doing something for her I’m ‘lying’ about what I am doing. Fortunately whilst I feel the old feelings, pain anger and rage at what is happening I have the internet this time. I will not be bashed in this way and the advice about clear boundaries is extremely necessary and like a final chapter in an old fight that I am done with I’ve paid the price of attracting similarly abusive partners and acting chaotically in my life time to give myself the unconditional love and know I will not be here for much longer and I will not take any more of it…!!!

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Susanna April 24, 2013 at 2:04 pm

When you distance yourself from a narcissistic parent, you can NEVER go back!

They never change. You must change yourself to where it is impossible for you to accept this kind of treatment.

I wish you well.

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TLC April 9, 2013 at 7:00 am

I just recently discovered (yesterday lol) that my mother fits this model of being narcissistic. It is such a relief to finally, after decades, have answers to the confusion that was my life. I now understand better what she has done and what she is still trying to do. I understand why my attempts to minimize contact with her end up abysmal failures. I understand better the dynamics of growing up in such a family and how it has affected my adult life. Now I can chart my own course better. I know what to expect and can accept it. It has been a long, rough road and most of my travel on it has been one of bewilderment and confusion and hurt feelings; but no more. Knowledge is power. She no longer has any power over me and I have lost the guilt that seemed to always be there no matter how I tried to ignore it. “I don’t do guilt” I’ve stated over and over and I don’t, but it requires a sustained effort and endless energy to maintain my position. Now, after reading and learning about NMs, I am well and truly free. Not only do I NOT do guilt; I no longer feel guilt either! I know she will continue the battle to her dying breath and so be it. I cannot control what she says or does; I can only control how I chose to act or react or how I chose to not act or not react. It is such a relief for all of this to be OVER!

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Saddened April 14, 2013 at 7:02 am

I spent tens yrs in a relationship with a man who took care of his mother all his life, as did his older brother too. Both never married or had children. Two years ago he had to place her in a nursing facility since the brothers could no longer care for her. During the course of our relationship I always thought the dynamics of the family were odd. My boyfriend was always on high alert for “the call” that would indicate that mom was ill. Last fall she became ill, I watched my boyfriend spiral into complete depression and anxiety. We got him on medication and into an out-patient facility with counseling, but he just become worse and worse. He could no longer play in the band he was in for two years, he could no longer work. He withdrew and I couldn’t get him to do any of the things we always enjoyed doing. In January his mother passed, the anxiety diminished somewhat and the depression remained getting worse. A Clinical Psychologist recommended hospitalization…something my boyfriend neglected to tell me. Three days later he took his life. After doing research I realized he was raised by a “narcissitic mother.” I saw all the signs, but never put it all together. He was the “golden boy” and had become so completely and utterly enmeshed with her that he had no identity away from her, and when she passed, he didn’t know what to do, he had lost himself. It is the saddest thing I have ever had happen to me in my life. My heart breaks for the life and childhood he had. All this time I just thought she was a doting, over-protective mother…..I had no idea the damage she had caused all her children. The dynamics played out perfectly with “the golden boy” the “scapegoat” and the “lost one.” The others are damaged, but I think my poor boyfriend got the brunt of it, he never had his own self, his self was her.

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Corrine April 14, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Wow…That’s powerful. I was the golden child who later became the the scapegoat/lost child at 12 years old when I crossed my mother in a big way (by protecting myself form her abuse by going to the authorities), and my sister ( much younger) is the golden child. She dropped me when I went no contact. She told me once that she feels like she and my mother are soulmates. She is 36 and still lives at home. She never developed her own self. She is just like my mother. Over the years when attributes or desires different from my mother’s would leak out, she quickly squelched them, denying them expression or acknowledgement. How sad. I once said to my mother, “What kind of a mother doesn’t tell her child to go out and make a great life, I’ll be fine?” She cussed me out. How dare I! Being the scapegoat has certainly been no bed of roses, and my life has been filled with endless psychological and emotional hurdles I have had to figure out how to overcome, but at least I know the “self” that is trying to break free and fix all the parts of me that she has broken. Not an easy journey to undertake, but what choice do we have if we are to go on living? To all you scapegoats out there, I read on this website that we are the truth tellers. Be proud. You are so brave.

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Anonymous April 27, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Yes-we are the truth tellers , and my God, what a shocking and awesome backlash it causes. I’m 51, and I finally only disengaged quietly and have been attacked and maligned from every one in my family. I have no idea yet who I am or where I’m going- I feel homeless. I’m staying in her vacant house while under chiropractic care- another month; (she moved next door to my sister in another state) but I think it was a mistake. I never heard of this website, but it’s amazing. I never understood the implications of growing up with a mother who named all of my dolls and pets, gave them away when we left in the summers to spend time with our Dad, redecorated my room while I was gone, hired someone to dress me in high school, flirted with my boyfriends and husbands, kept me, in grade and highschool for hours talking with her after school, required me to take care of my younger brothers and sister while she traveled or became the star of rehab again and again, took me for repeated plastic surgeries from age twelve to 25 sharing pain medications and serving alcohol and recently gave away my dog without my knowledge after promising to take care of her- I was able to find the new owner and my dog is now with me. Etc etc. I need to get out of her house, but I cannot make up my mind about where to live. From the website I understand the boundary must come from within- it doesn’t matter how far you are away physically, but I’m on edge and angry and confused all the time, even though I only hear from her when she needs something done to prepare this house for sale- first telling me it would be in September, then hearing from my brother that the family company has decided she needs to sell now. My mother maintains I can stay- I’m realizing she’s loving this control over my life. My reaction is fear and that has to change.

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Jennifer May 3, 2013 at 1:59 pm

I’ve been in couples counseling with my fiance for the last few months leading up to our wedding in September. My mom has come up a lot during our conversations and when my therapist called her a narcissistic parent a few months ago it was like a light bulb went off. Two months ago, after a confronation, I decided that I had enough and I cut all contact. It hasnt’ been easy since it was just me and her for the last fifteen years.

With the wedding just a few months away I’m questioning whether or not I made the right decision in cutting her out. After reading some of the posts on this site and the comments I am strengthened in my decision and know that it’s the right thing to move on with my life and focus on myself for a while.

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Susan May 21, 2013 at 3:04 am

Thank you for this article. I had to cut my mother out of my life 12 years ago. I had had a heart attack, and she came to my bedside and lamented in her melodramatic way, “Oh god this is so hard for me, what would I have done if..if..if ?” Then she proceeded to start crying. Here I was, post heart attack, in Cardiac ICU connected to several monitors, and I tried to reach for the kleenex to take care of her!! My sister was with her, and she too tried to take care of our mother’s needs before asking how I was. 9 months later, after working with my therapist, I confronted my mother and decided to sever the relationship for good. It was the absolute best thing I did, and I believe I would not be alive today had I kept her in my life. When people find out I have not spoken to my mother for 12 years, they are appalled. They say, “Wow, that’s your mom, how could you!” My response, “Hey, you are thinking of not seeing YOUR mother, not mine. Not everyone gets a good mother.” Ironically, had my mother been a terrible boyfriend or husband, everyone’s response would be, “Good riddance, thank god you got rid of that jerk.” But because mothers are so revered in our society, “breaking up” with your mother is seen as blaspheme. My mother tells everyone I am “sick and mentally damaged” since my heart attack and that is why I don’t talk to her. That is her classic narcissistic spin to save face. I don’t care what she says as I have discovered, everyone around me saw my mother for who she was, except my father, sister and I.

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Avril Sigerson November 1, 2013 at 7:59 am

Really interesting!

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Lily January 3, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Really helpfull article. Would like your book and more information please.

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Jillzmom September 11, 2014 at 8:00 am

This is an amazing article and made light bulbs come on and me have quite a few “aha” moments!! Your articles have helped me and will continue to do so thorough my journey of healing from this painful realization I have just recently discovered about myself, and just how shattered I am inside and scared to to the core. I am literally “jacked UP”, suffering from a few chronic illnesses, all because of this all these years and didn’t know it, and I realized it just 1 year prior to turning 40. It’s so sad and I pray everyday, and I pray BIG that I could be someone that helps others recognize and overcome this before its too late. It hurts. It is invisible. It is real. It is toxic to our bodies and souls. It CAN BE OVERCOME!!!! I thank God so much for my amazing husband, who in the midst of a separation and talking us about divorce, him just listening to me over the phone spew things out of my mouth I barely even remember, he dug and dug and figured this out himself!!! He’s my gift from God, my best friend and soul mate. He knew I wasn’t the person he’d knew 16 years, and been married to for 10. I’d never even heard of the word before!!! And like so many others, thought I had the perfect childhood and never though any different!! I’ll end with saying that MANY CHANGES, yes, MANY MANY MANY CHANGES are happening as I type this and are coming in myself and my families future. We are MOVING AWAY and starting ANEW!!! I know once I get through this learning, counseling, and healing, that I am gonna be a BRAND NEW WOMAN, and I can admit right now that I was a pretty darn good one before, even NOW! My
40′s are GONNA BE THE BEST YEARS OF MY LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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