* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.
Sometimes close friends really want to understand, and we can struggle to know how to explain what is means be raised by a narcissistic mothers.
Maybe we even come from a long line of narcissistic mothers.
Here is my attempt to give comprehensive but not complete examples. If you find this useful by all means print it out to give people.
Narcissistic mothers do the opposite of what real mothers do:
Where real mothers build us up, narcissistic mothers knock us down.
They either do it deliberately, for the pleasure of that, if they’re malignant narcissists. Or just carelessly, as collateral damage to their own wishes.
Table of Contents
- What is the definition of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)?
- What Does A Narcissistic Mother Look Like?
- What Does Growing Up With A Narcissistic Mother Feel Like?
- 17 CHARACTERISTICS OF NARCISSISTIC MOTHERS
- What Are The Consequences Of Growing Up With A Narcissistic Mother?
- Healing Tasks for Narcissistic Mothers’ Children
- Continue Reading About Narcissistic Personality Disorder
What is the definition of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)?
“I have never known a patient to represent his parents in a more terrible light than he actually experienced them as a child, but always in a more favorable one–because idealization of his parents was necessary for his survival.”Alice Miller
To begin with, Narcissistic Personality Disorder differs from narcissism as a personality characteristic.
Narcissism, or a preoccupation with oneself, is a continuum that ranges from minor to severe.
We’re all a touch egotistical, to be honest. This is a characteristic that we all have.
However, there is a distinction between having the trait and having it be a normal and natural aspect of a multidimensional personality versus someone who meets the full criteria of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as illustrated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM).
The clinical criteria for someone with NPD, according to the DSM, are as follows:
A chronic pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or action), desire for adulation, and lack of empathy that begins in early adulthood and manifests itself in a variety of situations, as evidenced by five (or more) of the following:
- Has a colossal feeling of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates accomplishments and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate accomplishments).
- Is obsessed with dreams of limitless prosperity, power, intelligence, beauty, or perfect love.
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique, and that only other exceptional or high-status individuals can understand him or her, or that he or she should interact with them (or institutions).
- Excessive appreciation is required.
- Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unrealistic expectations of preferential treatment or automatic compliance with one’s wishes).
- Is it a form of interpersonal exploitation? (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
- Lacks empathy: refuses to acknowledge or empathize with other people’s feelings and needs.
- Is frequently jealous of others or suspects that others are envious of him.
- Shows arrogant, pompous attitudes or behaviors.
*Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, American Psychiatric Association, 2013. (5th ed.). Washington, DC is the capital of the United States of America.
Furthermore, according to the DSM, prevalence rates for NPD “range from 0% to 6.2 percent” of the population, with “50-70 percent of individuals diagnosed with NPD being male.” (2013) (American Psychiatric Association).
But it still leaves a 50-30% chance that Narcissistic Personality Disorder may manifest in women in the United States.
And, given data from The Pew Center For Research from 2018, which shows that by the age of 40-44, 86 percent of women are mothers (a figure that is noticeably higher than the 80 percent recorded in 2006), these two figures suggest a large overlap of mothers who could and are diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
So, putting the DSM diagnostic criteria aside, what is it like to grow up with a Narcissistic Mother?
What Does A Narcissistic Mother Look Like?
Diana Macey is a writer who lives in the United States.
“Parents that are dysfunctional do not apologize. It’s one trait that narcissists’ offspring would unanimously agree on. They’ll lie and defend themselves, but they’ll never admit they were wrong.”
The Narcissistic Mother is subtle and complicated, and she doesn’t fit neatly into any one category.
She may be the CEO of a multibillion-dollar corporation or a stay-at-home mother in the heartland of America.
She might have advanced degrees and Chanel in her closet, or she could spend her time volunteering at bake sales, soccer games, and wandering the Target aisles.
(She might be any or all of these.)
She may be White, Black, Brown, or something else else. Rich, poor, or in the middle.
No one is exempt from the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder because of their social class, color, education, or geographic location.
So, once again, there is no such thing as a single “type” of narcissistic mother.
She manifests herself in a variety of ways.
If you’ve been a long-time reader of mine, you’ll know that I frequently use pop culture references to illustrate my writings — fictitious models that many of us have seen on shows and in movies that represent what I’m talking about – but I had a hard time finding instances of the Narcissistic Mother.
There are plenty of examples of narcissistic male/father models, but it’s more difficult to locate examples of narcissistic females, much alone narcissistic mothers.
This may be due in part to the fact that the archetype of a Narcissistic Mother contradicts what millennia of Judeo-Christian, patriarchal conditioning has taught us to believe and expect from mothers – selfless and self-sacrificing, unfailing generosity and devotion, humble and mild-mannered, and so on.
Coupled with these strong societal introjects, the difficulty I had in sharing instances with you might be owing to Hollywood’s continued devaluation of women in starring roles, as well as its failure to portray a broad enough range of character complexity in women and moms in particular.
Consider Betty Draper in Mad Men, Caroline Collingwood in Succession, Ellis Grey in Grey’s Anatomy, the Evil Queen in Snow White, and Circe in Game of Thrones for examples of the Narcissistic Mother in the media (though arguably Antisocial Personality Disorder (aka Psychopathy) would be a better fit for both given their murderous tendencies).
There is no one-size-fits-all model for the Narcissistic Mother.
She manifests herself in a variety of ways.
What Does Growing Up With A Narcissistic Mother Feel Like?
“When I was with my mother, I used to think of myself as a trophy, something to show off in front of my peers. I sat on the shelf, neglected and forgotten, while out of sight.”The Flock: The Autobiography of a Multiple Personality, Joan Frances Casey
What Does Growing Up With A Narcissistic Mother Feel Like?
Some or all of the following may have colored your childhood and encounters with her:
- She had “one-upped” me. Constantly. “Oh, you’re aiming for Salutatorian? I was Valedictorian in high school. My former high school professors still discuss my speech with me.”
- You felt like you were a part of her. An asset in furthering her professional or social objectives. As an example, her accessories vs. her main emphasis.
- You felt manipulated and coerced. She was taught and informed, either tacitly or overtly, that her agenda came first.
- You were subjected to humiliation. Not even once. Not once, but twice. But it happens again and again. “Perhaps those mashed potatoes aren’t something you should eat tonight, honey. Your jeans are starting to feel a touch tight.” Shame with a sugar coating.
- She held herself to unrealistic standards. “Of course you’ll get into Harvard!” says the narrator. After all, you are, after all, my child. The UCs aren’t up to par.”
- You can’t remember a time when she sincerely apologized or accepted responsibility for her actions or their impact on you. Please keep in mind the quotation at the beginning of this essay section: genuine apology should not look like “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
- Your relationship with her feels tense and brittle, as if you’re “stepping on eggshells,” and you know that disagreeing with her or disappointing her would cost you dearly.
- And, believe it or not, this is only the top of the iceberg.
There’s a good chance that a lot of what you’ve done isn’t on this list.
Perhaps she didn’t appear to be the “rejecting mother,” the one who couldn’t be bothered or was hiding beneath her covers, depressed and disinterested in mothering.
She may have appeared to be the overly concerned mother, the outwardly beautiful picture of a mother, engaged, sending you – her child – to elite schools, and so on, but what happened behind closed doors?
What did that attachment, those loving deeds, taste and feel like?
Was it offered freely?
Did her love feel like a business deal?
Do you think her love for you is weighed down by expectations?
17 CHARACTERISTICS OF NARCISSISTIC MOTHERS
- Real mothers provide a soft place to fall when their daughters are down and weary. Ours begrudgingly provide a barren concrete slab. Or maybe a mattress of barbed wire, for the fun of adding to our misery.
- Real mothers see themselves and their daughters as being on the same side. Our mothers see us as the opposition.
- Real mothers enjoy our company. Narcissistic mothers enjoy our attention.
- Real mothers see their daughters’ beauty and applaud it. Ours will make sure we know all our flaws.
- Real mothers want their daughters fulfill all their potential. Ours do not want us outshining them. Unless they want us to do well as a reflection on them. Often they can have both of these desires (“Don’t outshine me but do well to make me look good”) and so we’re in a no-win situation there.
- Real mothers rejoice in their daughters’ successes. Narcissistic mothers resent them. And/or hijack them.
- Real mothers mourn for our sorrows. Narcissistic mothers relish the drama of them.
- Real mothers delight in their daughters. Ours delight in what we can do for them.
- Real mothers are interested in their daughters’ lives. Ours have no interest in anything outside themselves.
- Real mothers are kind. Ours are completely selfish.
- Real mothers are warm. Narcissistic mothers are cold. Except for the heat of anger.
- Real mothers can be annoying, with foibles and faults. Ours are emotionally and psychologically toxic.
- Real mothers hold us in their hearts. Narcissistic mothers hold us in contempt.
- Real mothers can be testy and cranky and short-tempered at times. Our mothers are downright nasty.
- Real mothers are willing to discuss and compromise. Narcissistic mothers invented my-way-or-highway-ism.
- Real mothers look for the win-win. Narcissistic mothers insist on the “I win.”
- Real mothers love their daughters. Our mothers love only themselves.
There is no one-size-fits-all image of a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and there is no one-size-fits-all description of what it was like to be her kid.
As a result, the consequences of being raised by a narcissistic mother are equally complicated.
What Are The Consequences Of Growing Up With A Narcissistic Mother?
Marion Woodman is a well-known author.
“If we were raised in a family where power was disguised as love, it might be difficult to tell the difference between power and love.”
To begin, let me state that we know that children have core developmental needs that include good-enough consistent attachment, mirroring, attunement, and positive regard from their primary caregiver(s) in order to help them establish a stable, cohesive, and positive sense of self and to learn secure relational attachment, based on decades of research.
We also know that when children don’t get this, or instead get constant invalidation, repeated ruptured attachment experiences, a lack of empathy, or open hostility from their caregiver(s), it has a variety of consequences.
Unfortunately, women with NPD have personality qualities that are nearly diametrically opposed to being able to provide their children with the emotional and mental support they require to grow.
As a result, the children of narcissistic mothers may face difficulties.
They could have trouble with:
- I have a strong sense of attachment.
- Understanding the characteristics of a healthy, functional, and reciprocal relationship.
- Self-esteem comes from within, and true self-knowledge comes from within.
- Knowing what appropriate limits are (let alone establishing them!) is a difficult task.
- Knowing how to communicate assertively and responsibly.
- Knowing how to resolve a disagreement in a healthy way.
- Getting in touch with and controlling their emotions without the use of obsessive or addictive drugs or behaviors.
- Believing in oneself and their understanding of the universe.
- Finding and maintaining safe, healthy, and productive love and friendship connections.
This is by no means a complete list.
The effects on a kid raised by a narcissistic mother will be as varied as the people who go through the experience, and will be influenced by a variety of factors.
However, it’s clinically reasonable to assume that everyone raised by a narcissistic mother would experience some biopsychosocial consequences.
The main question then arises, “How can we recover if we were raised by a Narcissistic Mother?”
Healing Tasks for Narcissistic Mothers’ Children
Adult offspring of narcissistic mothers will most likely need to do the following things to heal:
Self-education is important.
Understanding what narcissism is, how it manifests, the numerous consequences it has had and continues to have, and what you may anticipate instead for yourself, from others, and from life from a more healthy, functioning position.
You may considerably expedite your healing effort by seeing yourself and your past more clearly.
Developing essential abilities.
We come from relational trauma histories when we are raised by narcissistic parents, whether they be moms or fathers. And, as a result, we may spend valuable life energy simply trying to live, cope, and get by.
Often, we will have lost the chance to handle a child’s and adolescent’s age-appropriate developmental responsibilities, and we will have failed to master the foundational psychological abilities that can build up to a full, healthy, grounded-in-reality existence. Learning and practicing any skills or developmental stages you may have missed is an important part of your recovery process.
You’re processing, mourning, and trying to make sense of what’s happened to you.
If you were raised by a Narcissistic parent, trauma-informed processing involves at its heart grieving work and sense-making.
However, we must do this work in a phased, titrated manner, first ensuring that you are stable enough to recall your memories, then assisting you in processing them both cognitively and somatically, making sense of your personal history, yes, but also assisting your brain and body (which are both hardwired for healing) in fully metabolizing your experiences so that the past is no longer present cognitively or somatically.
Seeking for (and allowing) healing experiences in relationships.
When our early traumas occur in the context of connection, I am certain that it is through relationship — a particular sort of healthy, sensitive, profoundly caring interaction – that the most healing occurs.
Seeking out and nurturing stronger, more functioning connections — with a therapist, a spouse, good pals, the neighbor next door, your yoga instructor, etc. – should and must be a therapeutic effort for adult children of narcissistic parents.
A major part of the healing process is seeking out better connections, learning and relearning what’s acceptable and normal, and establishing your expectations for yourself and the treatment you’ll accept.
And, if you’re looking for further tools and support for your recovery path, here are a few of my previous writings that you might find helpful:
All of the little pieces: Comprehending the nature of complicated relationship trauma.
The notion of child abuse is debunked.
What is your preferred method of attachment? (part 1).
Developing a stronger bond (part 2).
Yes, sweetie, you DO have the right to grieve.
Why you don’t “need” or “have” to forgive someone if you’re not ready.
There are 15 indicators that your boundaries need to be improved.
Finally, I’ll say goodbye.
“All powerful souls must first go to hell before they can cure the planet for which they came here. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to return to assist others who are still trapped below.”
Ph.D. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
This essay is not intended to vilify the Narcissistic Mother, believe it or not.
At the end of the day, she most likely evolved as a result of her own childhood trauma and her upbringing in a patriarchal, capitalist, Earth-destroying global civilization.
As you are a product of your experiences, she is a product of hers.
So, if you recognize yourself in this post, whether as a child of a narcissist or as a narcissist yourself, my goal is that you will choose to invest in yourself and your rehabilitation for yourself, your family, and the legacy you leave behind.
Please get in touch with me if you need assistance with this. I’d be delighted to lend my support to you.
Finally, I’d want to offer you some words of encouragement, especially if you’re concerned that your own background and upbringing are impenetrable and that you won’t be able to have a healthy family of your own. Take heart when you read these words.
Continue Reading About Narcissistic Personality Disorder
If you need a crisis hotline or want to learn more about therapy, please see below:
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) – 1-800-656-4673
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255
- National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
- NAMI Helpline (National Alliance on Mental Illness) – 1-800-950-6264
For more information on mental health, please see:
- SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) SAMHSA Facebook, SAMHSA Twitter, SAMHSA LinkedIn, SAMHSA Youtube
- Mental Health America, MHA Twitter, MHA Facebook, MHA Instagram, MHA Pinterest, MHA Youtube
- WebMD, WebMD Facebook, WebMD Twitter, WebMD Instagram, WebMD Pinterest
- NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), NIMH Instagram, NIMH Facebook, NIMH Twitter, NIMH YouTube
- APA (American Psychiatric Association), APA Twitter, APA Facebook, APA LinkedIN, APA Instagram