Growing up with narcissistic parents or specifically narcissistic mothers, is toxic to our mental health. Children of narcissistic parents likely experienced a lot of stress and confusion in their childhood because their parents may have exhibited immature, selfish, and irrational behaviors within the household.
Children look to their caregivers to learn about the world. Through responsible, attuned, and compassionate parenting, we learn to soothe ourselves, trust others, and develop a strong sense of self.
Suppose a parent is immature, narcissistic, and not attuned to their child’s needs due to their self-absorption. In that case, the child is at risk of developing intrapersonal issues, such as anxiety, mistrust, depression, and low self-esteem.
Dangers of narcissistic parents
Narcissistic parents interrupt their children’s healthy development. They interfere with their autonomy and independence. They project their own ideals onto their children rather than allowing them to be their authentic selves. They impact their children’s self-esteem by conditioning them to believe they are incapable of surviving and thriving without their help.
Growing up with narcissistic parents is challenging. It can be hard to know where to look for support, especially if the narcissistic parent has managed to establish a wall between you and your siblings by dividing and conquering the family unit – a common trait of the narcissistic parent.
Understanding narcissistic parents
This article will explore what it means to grow up with narcissistic parents – more specifically, a narcissistic mother. Mothers take a lot of blame for mental health issues and how well their children grow.
It might seem unfair, but the nature of the mother-child relationship is such that its quality and any experiences of inconsistent care, mistrust, or misattunement within it can significantly affect the child’s personal growth and development.
The topic we’re going to explore in this article is not meant to blame mothers for our difficulties and challenges in life but to highlight the importance of attuned, compassionate, and mindful care and support in the mother-child relationship.
Before we explore the narcissistic mother, let’s take a quick look at narcissism as a whole.
What is narcissism?
Narcissism is the deeply held belief that one is entitled to special treatment, is more important than others, and that the world revolves around them. Narcissism is a spectrum; some people exhibit mild narcissistic tendencies, while others exhibit more severe tendencies.
People on the severe end of the narcissistic spectrum may be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). According to the journal Behavioral Medicine, NPD is a mental health condition in which a person lives with ‘a persistent pattern of grandiosity, fantasies of unlimited power or importance, and the need for admiration or special treatment’.
Common narcissistic traits
Whether a person is a mild narcissist or they have a narcissistic personality disorder, they will exhibit some if not all of the following traits and characteristics:
- A grandiose sense of self (excessive self-esteem, self-importance, overconfidence, feelings of superiority)
- Manipulation of others for personal gain
- Exaggeration of talents and personal achievements
- Projection of hopes and dreams onto children
- Inability to take criticism and feedback without taking offense
- A constant need for validation, reassurance, and admiration
- Being jealous of others’ success
- A lack of empathy for others
- Fantasies of power and control
- An unrealistic sense of entitlement
The above common traits and characteristics of narcissism make narcissists extremely hard to live with. They rarely take responsibility for their shortcomings or wrongdoings, instead choosing to place blame and responsibility on others.
Narcissists don’t want other people to have a negative view of them and go to great lengths to save face. Sometimes, when confronted, a narcissist will engage in gaslighting – a manipulative behavior in which a person makes the person facing them doubt their feelings and opinions to avoid conflict or accepting responsibility.
Is my mother a narcissist?
If you’re wondering if your mother is a narcissist, it may be because you’re experiencing some interpersonal (relating to others) or intrapersonal (relating to yourself) issues in your adult life, and you’re looking for their root cause.
A narcissistic mother can damage their child’s sense of self and healthy development, so any personal difficulties and challenges you’re experiencing may indeed have their roots in your family dynamic, and more specifically, in your relationship with your mom.
Still, it’s important to note that, as adults, it is our responsibility to heal ourselves. It’s tempting to blame others, especially our parents, for our present-day difficulties, but blaming others for what we perceive as wrong or faults in our lives is a narcissistic trait.
Note that narcissistic parents can create narcissistic children. Instead of allowing your mother’s emotional immaturity to influence your personality and make you a narcissist yourself, try to break the cycle. Take responsibility for your own healing, but still acknowledge the roots of your emotional wound.
Later in this article, we’ll offer some helpful tips and advice on how to deal with a narcissistic mother. First, let’s develop a better understanding of what a narcissistic mother is.
Signs of a narcissistic mother
A narcissistic mother may possess some of all of the following traits:
Narcissistic mothers tend to assume their children are there as a source of validation. They want their children to praise them, even when they don’t deserve it. They want to be the center of attention and go to great lengths to ensure that everyone in the household recognizes their efforts. Narcissistic mothers may even throw a tantrum or sulk when they don’t get enough attention or praise.
A narcissistic mother may choose a favorite child and see her other children as ‘less.’ The favorite child will receive heaps of praise and be expected to love and praise their mother. When other siblings confront the mother for her irrational, narcissistic behavior, she may use the favorite child as an example of how great a mother she is in an attempt to prove the confronting children wrong.
Seeing children as an extension of oneself
Instead of encouraging their children to be independent and autonomous, the narcissistic mother will place unreasonable and unrealistic expectations on their children to meet their projected ideals. They may be controlling, forcing you into hobbies or a career that they wished they had followed in their life but didn’t. They may be discouraged from following your interests because they don’t consider those interests as important or relevant to their own lives.
Ultimately, the narcissistic mother refuses to accept your individuality and tries to manipulate you into being a successful version of themselves. Even if you do achieve that type of success, they would constantly highlight how you got there because of them and even take credit for your achievements.
How to deal with a narcissistic mother
If you’re reading this article, the good news is that you’re already on your way to learning how to cope with your narcissistic mother. Educating yourself on the nature of narcissism and learning to recognize the signs will help you identify when you have been a victim of narcissism and help you take the steps necessary to prevent your mother’s narcissism from impacting your health and happiness.
Other than education, there are some practical tips to help you deal with a narcissistic mother, such as:
Suppose you recognize that your mother is a narcissist and that you’ve been manipulated into doubting yourself, adhering to her expectations, and struggling to cultivate a strong sense of self. In that case, it’s important to set a healthy boundary.
For example, if your mother pressures you to explain why you’re doing something, such as hanging out with certain friends or working in a job you love but that she doesn’t approve of, you can refuse to justify what you’re doing.
Let her know that you’re entitled to your privacy and that if she continues to interrogate you, you will be less likely to share the details of your life with her moving forward.
Create some distance
It may be necessary to put some distance between you and your narcissistic mother. It may take a narcissist a long time to realize the consequences of their behavior. Placing some healthy distance between the two of you, such as limiting contact or cutting them out completely for some time, may make them realize that their behavior harms their relationships.
Further, the distance may help you regain a sense of yourself, independent from your mother’s beliefs and opinions. It can be hard to realize all how narcissistic parents have influenced us, but if you focus on living your own life and doing things in alignment with your personal values, you’ll soon come to realize the influence they’ve had.
Speak to a therapist
Narcissistic mothers offer love with conditions. They teach their children that to be loved, they need to adhere to their mother’s expectations, praise them, and never get angry with them or blame them.
They teach their children to suppress and feel ashamed about their authentic feelings if those feelings don’t align with what their mother wants them to feel. As such, children of narcissists may develop mental health challenges such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and relationship issues.
A trained therapist or counselor can help you overcome the damage caused by growing up with a narcissistic mother. They can offer a space where you can let go of your learned people-pleasing behavior and healthily explore your feelings and emotions without fear of judgment or punishment.