Growing up with a narcissistic mother can leave emotional scars that shape who you become. Though she may have raised you, a narcissistic mother sees her children as extensions of herself. Her love came with conditions, not the unconditional nurturing that lets kids blossom into themselves.
You yearned for her approval, walking on eggshells in hopes of gaining her fluctuating affection. She manipulated with guilt and shame, keeping you under her influence. Your voice and needs took back seat to her own.
As her child, you experienced the loneliness of being invisible and unheard by the one person meant to be your safe harbor. The scrutiny, control and entitlement you endured was not the nurture a mother should provide. Her love was based on what you could do for her, not who you genuinely are.
The impact of being raised by a self-absorbed mother lasts long after childhood. But healing is possible. Her limitations as a mother were not your failings as a child. You deserved to be cherished for the unique person you are. That person is still in you and there are people who will see and embrace your spirit. You are not defined by her limitations. You, like all children, deserve unconditional nurturing.
What is a narcissistic mother? | Overt and Covert Narcissism
The narcissistic mother in your life may not necessarily be your biological parent
The dynamics described in this blog can apply to any maternal figure that took on a primary nurturing role, whether adoptive, foster, grandmother raising child or other. Narcissistic emotional abuse unfortunately occurs across various family structures. The goal here is not to define motherhood narrowly, but provide information to all those who suffered narcissistic abuse by the person who took on the maternal role who was meant to be their caregiver.
No matter if you grew up under the care of your biological mom, grandmother, adoptive parent or someone else, the childhood emotional needs and right to be cherished remain the same. Anyone in that maternal role who could not give unconditional love or respect healthy boundaries leaves an emotional scar.
Healing is possible regardless of whether the narcissistic abuser was your biological mother or filled another role. You deserved empathy, compassion and respect no matter what title your maternal figure had. Recognizing narcissistic emotional abuse for what it is can be an empowering step, whoever enacted it.
The overt narcissistic mother
An overtly narcissistic mother is a mother who exhibits traits of a narcissistic personality, such as an excessive need for admiration, a lack of empathy, and the exploitation of others for her own gain. She views her children as extensions of herself, used to fulfill her own emotional needs and desires. The narcissistic mother puts her own feelings and wants first, ignoring or overriding the child’s emotions and psychological boundaries. She uses tactics like guilt, shame, comparison, and manipulation to keep the child under her control. The child feels like a possession rather than an individual, constantly seeking approval. Being raised by a narcissistic mother can cause lifelong issues with self-esteem, relationships, emotional regulation and independence.
The covert narcissistic mother
A covert narcissistic mother is one who exhibits the qualities of narcissistic personality disorder in subtle, underhanded ways. While an overt narcissist openly demands admiration, a covert narcissist engages in manipulation, passive-aggressiveness, martyrdom, and other means to subtly coerce their children to cater to their needs. The covert narcissist maintains a facade of being giving, humble and a devoted parent, while subtly undermining and controlling their children. Their affection is conditional, and they instill feelings of guilt in their children by constantly playing the victim. Covert narcissistic mothers sabotage their children’s independence, twist narratives about them, and make them question their own reality and self-worth. A covert narcissistic mother’s manipulation and exploitation of her children is not obvious at first glance but can be just as damaging.
7 narcissistic mother traits
Narcissistic mother characteristics
- She sees you as an extension of herself
- She expects you to fill her emotional needs
- Emotional Münchausen by proxy
- She competed with your other relationships out of jealousy
- Her love and affection for you is conditional
- She is unable to take responsibility for mistakes or wrongdoings
- Everything is about her
1. She sees you as an extension of herself
A narcissistic mother often struggles to recognize boundaries between you and her, treating you more as extensions of herself than as separate individuals.
She lives vicariously through you, seeing your successes and failures as her own. She projects her insecurities onto you and pressures you to conform to her values and interests rather than developing your own. As a child, your preferences, talents and identity were disregarded or overridden if they do not align with your mother’s ideas and values.
The narcissistic mother may have also dressed and treated you like a mini-me version of herself. She takes credit for any positive traits or talents as reflections of her capabilities. Independence may have been discouraged, if she saw that your purpose was to remain dependent on her.
Any deviation from the narcissist’s desires is met with rejection or strong reactions. In her eyes, the child is more of an accessory than an autonomous person. Frequent comparisons and measuring against her own childhood further deny the child’s individuation.
2. She expects you to fill her emotional needs
Growing up with a narcissistic mother often meant having to fill emotional roles beyond one’s years. Rather than receiving the nurturing a child needs, your position became one of appeasing your mother’s insatiable needs.
The heavy burden of having to manage her emotions and moods was placed upon you. Her love and approval became dependent on your ability to keep her satisfied. This denied you the freedom and innocence of childhood.
You were expected to provide levels of support, validation and praise no child should have to give. The compete attention and energy focused on keeping her happy left you drained and empty inside. Your own needs were neglected.
Having to constantly walk on eggshells and take responsibility for her emotions stunted your emotional development. Instead of learning to understand and express your own feelings, you were forced to shut them out.
The guilt, shame and manipulation used to ensure you filled her emotional voids was not the kind of parenting you deserved. Her emotional health should never have been put on your tiny shoulders.
You deserved a mother who let you be a child and paid attention to your feelings, not the other way around. I hope you are finding ways now to reconnect with your own emotions, set boundaries, and prioritize your needs. You do not need to carry her burdens.
3. Emotional Münchausen by proxy
Emotional Münchausen Syndrome, often referred to as “Münchausen by proxy” or “factitious disorder imposed on another,” is a form of abuse in which an individual, often a caregiver, manipulates or exaggerates the physical or psychological symptoms of another person, typically a child, to gain attention, sympathy, or validation for themselves.
If you’re a child who experienced this, here are some ways this may have manifested. She fabricated or exaggerated emotional or psychological problems in you to gain attention and sympathy for herself. She presented you as flawed, abnormal or psychologically disturbed in some way. She dismissed your accounts of your emotional experience and imposed her own distorted narrative about your “condition.” She thrived on being in the rescuer role and inhibited progress you made to perpetuate it. Your identity and self-perception were engulfed in the sick role assigned to you by your mother.
A narcissistic mother may engage in emotional Münchausen Syndrome to gain attention and sympathy from others. By exaggerating or fabricating your emotional or psychological issues, she can cast herself as the devoted, selfless caregiver, thereby garnering praise and validation from others. She maintains her reputation as the long-suffering parent dealing with a child’s perceived emotional or psychological problems. This victim narrative can be used to deflect attention from her own shortcomings and manipulate others into offering her more support and assistance.
Keeping you emotionally dependent on her ensures that you remain enmeshed and unable to establish your autonomy. Overtime, you internalize the label of being “sick” or “broken” (read this blog to learn more about feeling emotionally broken) as defined by your mother. This can hinder your emotional growth and independence and keep you within her control.
4. She competed with your other relationships out of jealousy
A narcissistic mother may engage in controlling and competitive behaviors that revolve around your external relationships. She may criticize the other parent, other family members, friends, or romantic partners that draw your attention away from her. In some cases, she might attempt to sabotage or break up these relationships through manipulation or by belittling them. She may demand that you prioritizes her needs over spending time with others by portraying herself as the real victim when you sought to build strong bonds outside the parent-child relationship.
This competitive nature can also manifest as a relentless demand for excessive time and attention from you, diverting your focus away from other relationships. When you show affection for someone else, a narcissistic mother may act envious or threatened, feeling entitled to be the sole and constant priority in your life. These behaviors, driven by her need for constant validation and control, can have detrimental effects on your emotional well-being and your ability to establish healthy connections beyond the parental sphere.
5. Her love and affection for you is conditional
A narcissistic mother’s love and approval is rarely unconditional. It is given only when you, her child, exhibit the specific qualities or behaviors she values and withheld when you do not.
The narcissistic mother may cherry-pick the attributes, talents or traits in you that she sees as positive reflections of herself. For example, she may expect perfection from you because it reflects positively on her as a parent. Or, she may want you to remain limited or in need in the case of Münchausen by proxy described above. Any deviation from these desired qualities is punished with rejection or withdrawal of attention and nurturance.
Over time, you learn to alter your behavior to earn your mother’s affection, even if it means betraying your own feelings and identity. This conditional parenting may cause you to feel that you must earn love by conforming to the version of yourself your mother wants you to be. Your mother becomes the judge of your worthiness of love. Her approval comes at great cost to your emotional health and self-concept.
Ultimately, this causes you to dissociate from your own needs in favor of mirroring back desired qualities to your mother. You might become focused solely on people pleasing to maintain conditional maternal “love.”
6. She is unable to take responsibility for mistakes or wrongdoings
A narcissistic mother has a very difficult time accepting blame or responsibility for mistakes and wrongdoings. She is incapable of accountability. Instead, she instinctively deflects responsibility onto others. She distorts narratives to make others, including you, the scapegoat for her own behaviors or shortcomings.
Your self-esteem may suffer from constant criticism and blame-shifting. You internalize feelings of flawedness to protect your mother’s fragile ego and delusions of superiority. Years of having your perceptions undermined causes you to distrust your own instincts. They become conditioned to automatically self-blame while exonerating even her most negligent behaviors.
The narcissistic mother’s abdication of responsibility becomes a form of gaslighting. Your emotions are dismissed and reality warped to shield her from ever admitting imperfection. You suffer feelings of guilt and shame simply for wanting empathy and accountability from her.
7. Everything is about her
A narcissistic mother’s needs and feelings take priority over those of others. Conversations tend to redirect back to her. She seeks to be the constant focus and center of attention. What she has to say is positioned as more insightful and important.
She expects family members, especially her children, to cater to her demands and wishes, no matter how unreasonable. Their schedule and resources revolve around servicing her needs. Everyone must tiptoe around her volatile emotions and temper her outbursts by appeasing her.
Her sense of entitlement seeps into all interactions, big and small. The family’s reality gets distorted to accommodate her needs and confirm her superior status. She is the black hole around which all orbits.
How to deal with narcissistic mother
Recognize her limitations
I know it can be painful to accept that you cannot change or fix your narcissistic mother. As her child, you wished she could embrace you with the unconditional love you deserved. You hoped desperately she would become the nurturing mother you needed if you just did or said the right thing.
But her reactions and behaviors stem from a disorder beyond your control or responsibility. Though it hurts to acknowledge, she is limited in her capacity to empathize, take accountability, or show genuine interest in your emotional needs. Efforts to change her will only lead to more frustration and heartache.
As difficult as it is, focusing your energy on what you do have agency over can help you heal. You get to choose how to respond to her, when to set boundaries, who to confide in, and how to validate yourself. You can take steps to protect your self-worth and wellbeing. The path forward is to mourn the mom you wished for, accept her limitations with compassion, and find ways to build the loving relationships and life you deserve. You are not defined by her disorder. Your life is yours to shape.
Grieve the mother you wish you had because you probably won't get the apology or closure you need
Children of narcissistic mothers often struggle to fully grieve the childhood they deserved because it’s too painful. Dealing with a narcissistic mother often involves not expecting apologies or closure because narcissists typically avoid taking accountability or self-reflecting on their actions. This means you may need to go through a process of grieving for the mother you deserved but didn’t have.
Allowing yourself to fully grieve is not easy. You may find yourself stuck in cycles of denial or self-blame as a means of coping with the painful truth. There are several reasons this avoidance of grieving happens.
Having to believe your mother’s false narrative that the emotional abuse was your own fault was essential to surviving your traumatic childhoods. Letting go of this ingrained belief system now would threaten the very coping foundations you built as as child.
Facing the reality of your traumatic upbringing also requires acknowledging how helpless you were as a child, dependent on a disordered narcissist. Moreover, the prospect of grieving opens the door to confronting your mother’s lies, which contradict everything you were conditioned to internalize. It feels safer to sink into the familiarity of flawed self-perception.
How to grieve
However, grieving the childhood a narcissistic mother denied you is an excruciating yet vital process to healing. It is also not something that happens just once, but in layers over time. As you reach new stages of healing, you may find yourself re-grieving past hurts at deeper levels.
Initially, allowing yourself to continually feel and express the full spectrum of emotions without judgement or minimization is needed – sadness, anger, regret, disappointment. Suppressed emotions will only fester and prolong suffering. Grieving means acknowledging the truth of the profound neglect and abuse that occurred. This admission brings temporary pain but ultimately can free you from the past.
Creative rituals like writing letters to your inner child, throwing away symbolic objects, yelling into pillows, visualization, and physical exercise can help release and externalize what you internalized for so long. Support groups and therapists specializing in narcissistic abuse recovery guide you to grieve in healthy ways, feeling less alone.
While grieving, cherish and nurture yourself through loving words and actions. The wounded inner child within you needs this validation to heal. Be patient, as the process follows its own rhythm. Some days the grief pours out like rain. Other times, it remains dormant as you focus on the present. Over time, you build emotional resilience to revisit wounds that surface.
Though grieving happens in waves, the purpose remains constant – acknowledging the childhood you deserved but never received. By honoring these pains, you can fully live now unfettered by the past. You cannot change what happened, only how you move forward.
Your well-being matters. Start your journey to emotional recovery.
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Practice the skill of recognizing the intentions behind your narcissistic mother's words
If you decide that you want to maintain contact with her, recognizing the underlying intentions behind a narcissistic mother’s words is a crucial step in coping with such a challenging relationship.
By tuning into the subtext beneath her words, you can discern her motives, which often revolve around her need for control, superiority, or attention. This awareness empowers you to protect yourself from absorbing the hurtful impact of her words and actions, allowing you to set boundaries and make informed decisions about how to interact with her while prioritizing your own emotional health.
Here are some examples of such statements.
Her words: “You look tired, are you getting sick?” Potential Intentions: Implying something is wrong with you
Her words: “You’ll never find anyone who loves you like I do.” Potential Intentions: Creating dependency and fear of losing her affection
Her words: “[other parent] has such loving kids. They [are so successful, are always taking their family on vacations, buying them things, spending time with their family, and so on]. Potential Intentions: Criticizing you through comparison to make you feel inadequate. Trying to shape your view of behaviors that are ‘loving’
Her words: “After all I’ve done for you!” “I sacrificed everything for you.” “You never appreciate all I do for you.” Potential Intentions: Making you feel guilty and indebted to her. Eliciting feelings of inadequacy and guilt, ensuring you seek her approval.
Her words: “You’re too sensitive.” “Why do you have to be so difficult?” Potential Intentions: Dismissing your feelings and perceptions so she doesn’t have to take responsibility
Her words: “You don’t need to hang out with them.” Potential Intentions: Controlling your other relationships out of jealousy and possessiveness)
Her words: “I’m worried about you.” “I’m only trying to protect you.” Potential Intentions: Portraying herself as the caring one to disguise controlling behavior.
Her words: “You’re too young to understand.” “I know what’s best for you.” Potential Intentions: Dismissing your perspective and minimizing your opinions. Asserting her dominance and undermining your autonomy.
Please note: While the examples I provided illustrate common manipulative tactics, it’s necessary to consider the broader context and the individual’s pattern of behavior when assessing whether manipulation is occurring. People can use these statements on occasion without necessarily having manipulative intentions. It’s the frequency, consistency, and the broader pattern of behavior that reveal whether someone is employing manipulative tactics.
It’s also helpful to trust your instincts and, if necessary, seek support from trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals when dealing with complex and challenging relationships.
Learning to discern the intentions masked within her words – whether to undermine, guilt, shame or manipulate – can prevent absorbing the hurtful impact. Tune into the subtext underneath that usually serves her needs for control, superiority or attention. Her words reveal more about her own disorder than about you.
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Develop the ability to recognize manipulation
Developing the ability to recognize manipulation is a powerful tool when dealing with a narcissistic mother. This skill can empower you in various ways. Firstly, it allows you to regain a sense of control over your own emotions and actions. By being aware of manipulation tactics, you can see through her strategies and avoid falling into her emotional traps.
Moreover, understanding manipulation tactics reduces their emotional impact. It enables you to detach from her words and actions, making it less likely that you’ll internalize the hurtful messages or experience the same level of emotional distress. By recognizing the manipulation at play, you can compartmentalize her behavior, making it easier to stay grounded and focused on your well-being.
This awareness also facilitates informed decision-making. You become more adept at choosing when and how to engage with your narcissistic mother, with a primary focus on self-preservation. You can make conscious choices regarding the level of interaction and the strategies you employ to protect your emotional health. Here are some ways to recognize manipulation:
Tune into your emotions
Her words may elicit feelings of shame, guilt, doubt, or defensiveness, which are often signals of manipulation. By becoming aware of these emotional responses, you can begin to discern her motivations. Is she using guilt to make you comply with her wishes? Is she attempting to undermine your confidence by sowing doubt? Is she provoking defensiveness to maintain control over the conversation? Understanding the emotional impact of her words can help you see through the manipulation, enabling you to set boundaries, protect your emotional well-being, and respond more effectively to her tactics. This awareness is a significant step towards reclaiming your agency and fostering healthier interactions.
Identify inconsistencies – Compare her words to her actions
Identifying inconsistencies between a narcissistic mother’s words and actions is one way to recognizw manipulation. It’s common for what she says to be misaligned with how she treats you. By comparing her statements to her behaviors, you can gain insight into her true intentions. For instance, if she frequently professes love and care verbally but consistently engages in hurtful actions or neglects your well-being, this misalignment becomes apparent.
Listen for distortions
Listening for distortions in a narcissistic mother’s communication is another valuable skill in managing this challenging relationship. These distortions can take various forms, including exaggerations, lies, projections, assumptions, and judgments, all of which are typically intended to control the narrative about you. When engaging with her, pay close attention to these red flags. For instance, she may exaggerate your faults or achievements to fit her narrative, lie to manipulate your perception, project her own shortcomings onto you, make unwarranted assumptions about your intentions, or pass harsh judgments without factual basis. Recognizing these distortions empowers you to maintain a clearer sense of self and reality.
Notice when she dismisses your point of view
A narcissistic mother typically operates with the intent to suppress any reality that doesn’t align with her agenda or self-image. When you express your thoughts, emotions, or differing perspectives, you might encounter various dismissive tactics. Your words might be met with a complete lack of interest or acknowledgment. She may act as though your concerns or opinions are irrelevant, contributing to a sense of invisibility and invalidation.
She may outright deny the validity of your experiences or feelings. For instance, if you express how her actions hurt you, she may deny having done anything wrong, gaslighting you in the process. She might use sarcasm or ridicule to make you feel foolish or overly sensitive for expressing yourself.
When you attempt to discuss your thoughts, feelings, or experiences, she may seize the opportunity to shift the conversation back to her own needs, concerns, or achievements. This behavior not only dismisses your point of view but also reasserts her own importance and dominance in the interaction. For example, if you share an accomplishment or a personal challenge, she might respond by immediately redirecting the conversation to discuss her own successes or struggles, effectively minimizing the significance of your experiences.
Watch for guilt trips and shaming
A narcissistic mother may frequently lay guilt trips on you by emphasizing how much she’s sacrificed or suffered for your sake. She might remind you of all she’s done for you, using it as emotional leverage to make you feel obligated to fulfill her wishes or meet her demands. The underlying message is that you owe her, and any act of independence or self-care may be met with guilt-inducing comments or behaviors.
Your narcissistic mother may criticize your choices, appearance, or life decisions, highlighting your perceived flaws or failures. This is intended to undermine your self-esteem and make you more susceptible to her influence. The fear of being judged and shamed can be a powerful tool in her attempt to control your behavior.
Pay attention to when she refuses responsibility
A narcissistic mother may rarely admit fault or take responsibility for her actions, regardless of whether they’ve caused harm or distress. Instead, she might deflect blame onto others, downplay her involvement, or even deny that a problem exists. This refusal of responsibility can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening, as it prevents open and honest communication.
When confronted with her actions, a narcissistic mother may deflect by changing the subject, making excuses, or pointing fingers elsewhere. She may use tactics such as gaslighting, where she manipulates the truth or your perception of reality to avoid being held accountable for her behavior. Deflection is a way of protecting her self-image and avoiding self-reflection.
Understanding and healing from the impact of a narcissistic mother is a challenging journey, but you don't have to do it alone.
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Set boundaries with your narcissistic mother
Setting boundaries with a narcissistic mother can be incredibly challenging but also necessary to protect your emotional wellbeing.
Here are some tips:
Start by identifying your non-negotiable boundaries around how you allow yourself to be treated – the behaviors, demands, criticism or manipulation you refuse to accept from her. Make a list of what is and isn’t okay, referring to it when she attempts to cross those lines. Remember, you get to decide where your limits are.
When expressing these boundaries, be clear, calm and direct using “I” statements. For example, “I will no longer accept you showing up unannounced or making negative comments about my friends.” Avoid heated accusations. Stick to simply stating the boundary and consequence if needed.
Expect resistance, hostility or attempts to debate when enforcing boundaries. Narcissists hate losing control. Don’t justify, defend yourself or get pulled into arguments. You stated the boundary, period. If needed, end the interaction. Follow through on consequences consistently.
Be prepared to go low or no contact if she refuses to respect them. This may be necessary to enforce boundaries completely. Get support from others dealing with narcissistic relatives. Protect your mental health above all else.
Boundaries are guidelines for how you expect to be treated. They require practice. You may slip up and need to reinforce them. That’s normal. Over time, staying resolute gets easier.
No matter how she responds, know you are not obligated to accept toxic treatment from anyone, even family. Her disorder does not supersede your right to set healthy limits. Expect growth and setbacks but stay committed to prioritizing your emotional needs.
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