The Many Faces of Maternal Narcissism

Were you engulfed or ignored?

Posted Mar 06, 2011

Maternal narcissism has many faces. I've identified six major types of narcissistic mothers, which will be discussed in my next post. Before we explore the types, it is important first to note that narcissistic mothering presents in either engulfing or ignoring behaviors. Although this sounds counter-intuitive, I found the impact of the opposite to be the same in the effects on children. Some mothers combine these opposing behaviors intermittently depending on mood.

The engulfing mother smothers, seemingly unaware of her daughter's unique needs or desires. She tries to dominate and control every aspect of her daughter's life, telling her what to wear, how to act, what to say, what to think and how to feel. The child has little room to grow and develop into her own person and find her own voice. This kind of mother looks good to society because she is over attentive but she is not tuning into her child's emotional world. She dictates the way it is to be and does not encourage the child's inner experience or self-development.

The ignoring mother under-parents and does not provide guidance, support, or attention. These ignoring behaviors create deep emotional gaps in a child's life that can go undetected for years. This kind of mother is also not in touch with the emotional world of the child. Both types lack empathy, the cornerstone of maternal narcissism.

We also see the combination of ignoring and engulfing although most times there is a preferential choice. Sometimes a mother can flip from engulfing to ignoring and back depending on her own mood or needs. Sometimes we have seen that a narcissistic mother will engulf one child and ignore another child in the family, which confuses both children. This, of course, does not encourage healthy sibling relationships.

The impact of the opposite becomes the same, when we see that both types (engulfing and ignoring) produce the same results. In either case, the child is not allowed to develop as an individual. The engulfing mother overtakes and dominates while the ignoring mother pays no attention. In both cases, the child is emotionally invisible. The child being raised by the ignoring mother is busy going back to the mother hoping and wishing she could get love, attention and approval. The child raised by the engulfing mother is smothered and suffocated. Both children have no room to develop. These daughters have a difficult time separating and accomplishing the all-important job of individuation to complete their own sense of self.

Effective mothering involves parenting a child with empathy and tuning into their emotional life. It certainly is not easy and there are no perfect parents, but we can learn how to parent in a different way by respecting a child's inner world. When children's feelings are validated, acknowledged, and they are treated with respect, we see a different child emerge. For adult children of narcissistic parents, these are hurdles to overcome as we learn to interact with kind and compassionate parenting for our own children and grandchildren. Much to come in future posts on this important issue.

Additional Resources for Recovery:

Resource Website:

Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Audio Book:

Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Work recovery in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments:



Daughter Intensives: One on one sessions with Dr. Karyl McBride

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