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Narcissistic Mother

Dealing with a Narcissistic Mother – Part 1 & 2
By David A Morris, LCSW

“My mother and your mother were hanging up clothes, my mother punch your mother right in the nose. What color was the blood?” – We use to repeat this rhyme to figure out whom was out or it or on which team. What an odd scenario this story tells! Most children might have imagined their mom doing the punching but some of you who grew up with a narcissistic mother may wish it the other way around.

Are you tired dealing with a narcissistic mother?

Are you tired dealing with a narcissistic mother?

On the surface and to her friends, she is embraced but you know your mom to be easily frustrated, critical of others, always right, and self-centeredly brittle. Her co-workers and friends don’t know her the way you do. Unpredictable maternal love often topped with hyper-control and anger may be what you are familiar with. You have walked on egg shells so long, your feet are covered in yolk.

To be honest, I didn’t know how common it was for people to have a mother with narcissistic traits – e.g. no empathy or failure communication or self-absorption – until I started practicing therapy seven years ago. Over the years, my clients have consistently reported these traits and then agonize over the fallout including troubling anxiety, slow weakening depression, and a loss of self-confidence. The narcissist is psychologically built to demand attention through their personality, money, intelligence or even appearance. Most people tend in this direction but they reevaluate themselves when it’s time to raise their daughter or son. Healthy moms support their children not control them. Narcissistic mothers crave attention, control and place that demand on their children.

If you recognize most of these traits in your mother, then you may also be experiencing some anxiety and/or depression. Come talk to a trusted, confidential therapist at New Directions Counseling Service to help you navigate this tough family dynamic.

Donald Woods Winnicott said it best, “The mother gazes at the baby in her arms…provided that the mother is really looking at the unique, small, helpless being and not projecting her own expectations, fears, and plans for the child.”

Here are a few characteristics of a narcissistic mother:

  • Socially engaged in public but a controlling mom at home. At home she is demeaning, critical, and lets you know you have not met her standards.
  • You feel like a failure when she is around. Validation may not be coming soon and she is very good at manipulating you especially regarding anything with emotions.
  • She is easily offended. After this is expressed then comes guilt communication which accuses you of not loving her enough.
  • She makes you anxious. She instigates self-doubt and you find yourself second guessing your decisions.
  • She is at the center of the world. She has difficulty putting herself in others’ shoes. Everything is seen through the lens of her self-absorption.

Psychologist and blogger, Karyl McBride, Ph.D. puts it this way:
“Narcissists are not in touch with their own feelings. They project those feelings on to others and are not capable of empathy. They cannot put themselves into your shoes and feel or understand how something might affect you. They can only see how it affects them. They are hypersensitive to criticism and judgment, but constantly criticize and judge others.”

Whether you had a diagnosed narcissistic mother or one that embodied many of the traits, the important idea is she

It'll be hard, but find compassion for your mother.

It’ll be hard, but find compassion for your mother.

had very little empathy and understanding for the needs of her kids. Kids need a lot of patience and attention, that’s very normal, but many narcissistic mothers demand their own attention. They take offense quickly, go on the attack, and start to twist your feelings to align with theirs.

As you get older, you may notice your mom’s behavior and emotional capacity does not match up to the typical nurturing parent. She gets easily irritated, then tired, then lets you know how ungrateful you can be. Yelling at her seems the only solution but you know from experience even that will get turned back against you.

It’s time to start taking care of yourself, understand your mom’s failings, and accept that  it is now your responsibility to break the legacy.

  1. Contact an effective, empathic therapist. It’s likely you are experiencing anxious or depressive symptoms due to a lifetime lack of maternal support. Learning skills to relieve  your symptoms is the start of dealing with your upbringing.
  2. Start to find a middle ground. If possible, start to understand and accept the emotional pain your mother has caused. It won’t be easy, especially if you get nothing in return, but rebuilding yourself may require some forgiveness and acceptance.
  3. Set healthy limits and keep hurt to a minimum.  Begin to take charge as opposed to passively receiving harsh criticism. Your mom knows how to make you feel like a failure, but as a young adult or grown adult, you can start to see it is her problem and her pain. Begin to let her know her critical approach is not constructive nor helpful to you.
  4. Practice your self-worth. The empathic validation you were supposed to receive as a kid never came and the emptiness can sit with you in adulthood. Your mother was probably preoccupied with her own needs and that may never change. Practice your internal conversation about who you are and how valuable you are because you have some years to make up.
  5. Know your distance. Now more than ever, it’s predictable when your mom will hurt you. Be strategic and keep a safe distance during these times. Once again, don’t be a passive recipient, be proactive in your relationship.
  6. Find compassion. It’s hard, but likely your mother has had some abuse, trauma, or her own narcissistic upbringing that has negatively impacted her ability to love and validate unconditionally. As best you can, find compassion for her and know a lot of her behavior comes from pain.

It may be time to build a strong, secure base for your emotional safety. Come talk to a trusted, empathic therapist at New Directions Counseling Service to help you navigate this tough family dynamic.