Is Your Mother a Narcissist?
Tips for identifying if you have a narcissistic mother and what to do about it.
Posted Nov 23, 2020
Because of the pandemic, many of us are celebrating Thanksgiving differently in 2020. Some are hosting dinner outside, others are skipping the food completely, and still others are choosing to connect over Zoom.
But as much as things will be different this year, one thing that will never change about the holidays is the challenge of dealing with narcissistic loved ones, especially a narcissistic mother. In preparation for this, I’ve put together a few tips on how to identify and deal with a potentially narcissistic mom.
Five Signs You Have a Narcissistic Mother
1. She Views You as an Extension of Herself
A narcissistic mother views her children first and foremost as an extension and reflection of herself. She loves her children because of what they can do for her. She loves her children’s achievements because of how they reflect well on her. For this reason, any attempt on the child’s part to assert independence or agency will likely be met with anger, hostility, or guilt as a way to “bring them back in line.”
2. Her Love Is Conditional
A narcissistic mother controls her children through her love. Her love is not a gift, it is a weapon. It is given as a reward to get the child to do what she wants and retracted as punishment for when things don’t go her way. One consequence of this conditional love is perfectionism. Children of narcissistic mothers, especially daughters, are likely to become perfectionists in a misguided attempt to win their mother’s conditional approval.
3. She Lacks Empathy
Narcissists view all others through a selfish prism. They can only see a situation in regards to how it affects them personally and not how it impacts others. A narcissistic mother is unwilling and unable to see the situation through her child’s eyes—only her thoughts and feelings matter. If your conversations with your mother glaze over your own concerns and constantly circle back to her feelings and experiences, there’s a good chance she is a narcissist.
4. She Gets Furious When Things Don’t Go Her Way
Narcissists tend to have volatile emotions. They flood you with love and praise and gifts when you’re doing what they want, but quickly turn on you when you step out of line and go against their wishes. As such, narcissists are very good at finding faults in others but are completely blind to their own flaws. Nothing is ever their fault. Every slight or snide comment or harmless misunderstanding is seen as a personal attack. They are always the victim. If you find yourself tiptoeing around your mother’s temper, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
5. She Cares a Lot About What Other People Think
Narcissism and vanity go hand in hand, especially among female narcissists. They act like they don’t care what others think but in truth, they care a great deal. They want others to see them as attractive, beautiful, skinny, and sexual (sometimes this can even cause them to see their daughters as sexual competition). Or maybe they want others to see them as high-status and so they flaunt their expensive purchases. Or maybe they spend hours each day making sure their house is spotlessly clean and organized. To a narcissist, appearances and others’ opinions are what matter most. This may lead you to think narcissists have high self-esteem but deep down, that is furthest from the truth. Even their love for themselves is conditional. As a result, they are constantly having to prove their worth to themselves via others’ approval.
How to Break Free From a Narcissistic Mother
Dealing with a narcissist is tricky because their worldview is designed to always see themselves as the victim and never as the perpetrator. For this reason, narcissists rarely seek out therapy or treatment for their distorted views. In those rare cases when they do seek out help, it is only because they think it is in their best interest to do so (not because it is in the best interest of their loved ones). So if your narcissistic mother refuses to get help, refuses to even admit she is a narcissist, what can you do?
The good news is that are things you can do to cope with having a narcissistic mother. Here are just a few:
- Accept and Let Go: Just recognizing that your mother is a narcissist can go a long way toward healing your old wounds. It is not your fault (despite what she may tell you) and there is nothing you can do to fix her. If you feel yourself slipping into self-blame, remind yourself that her words and actions stem from her own psychological issues. You can take this a step further by recognizing that she is suffering in her own mental prison and have compassion and empathy for her situation. She may have a very dysfunctional, twisted way of showing she cares about you, but she does care. But note that having compassion does not mean you should give in to her drama or allow her to harm you. That’s where setting boundaries becomes important.
- Set Boundaries: When she tries to manipulate you, guilt-trip you, or lash out when things don’t go her way, be ready to set some boundaries. Calmly explain that this way of dealing with you is not constructive and that you are not going to accept it. Identify boundaries or “psychological lines in the sand” that you are unwilling to have crossed. For example, if your mother responds by screaming at you, you might say that if she raises her voice again, you are going to end the conversation until she has calmed down and can have a rational conversation. Note that it is very hard to think of these boundary conditions on the spot, so prepare ahead of time by thinking out potential if-then scenarios (if she does X, then I will respond with Y). Also, note that just because you draw a line in the sand does not mean she will respect it. In fact, narcissists rarely respect others' boundaries, so be prepared to have to repeat those boundaries and execute your conditional responses more than once. It’s a bit like training a stubborn toddler, but over time, if you stick to your boundaries she should eventually (hopefully) get the point.
- Walk Away: If your mother continues to disrespect you and ignore your boundaries, you may have to make a hard choice about how willing you are to have her continue to be a part of your life. Remember that having a relationship with a narcissist is a choice, no matter who they are. If things can’t be resolved in a healthy way, you can choose to cut them out of your life completely. You can also choose to set more rigid boundaries, such as only having contact during holidays and family celebrations. The point is, you hold the cards. You have the power to decide who is in your life and who is not.
- Look to Others for Validation: Nothing can replace the unconditional love and validation we all crave from our mothers. If your mother is a narcissist, she may simply be unable to provide you with what you need. But that doesn’t mean you can’t fulfill those needs in other ways. Other family members, friends, spouses, co-workers, teachers, and mentors are all potential sources of validation and support you can seek out.
For more advice on how to deal with narcissistic mothers, check out this helpful book.