Narcissism is in our culture. We are encouraged to maximize our potential and get our way. It’s not inherently a bad thing. But, when we are only thinking about ourselves, like some pumped up Ayn Rand character, we end up creating a world that’s not nurturing or accepting of others.
Did your mother have the narcissism bug?
If so, you may be struggling as a consequence.
The Narcissistic Mother
Here are a few characteristics of the narcissistic mother. While many people have narcissistic traits, only a few are true narcissists. Still, a few items on this list may have affected you. Now, it’s time to do something about it.
- Your mother brings most conversations back to herself. (The world revolves around her and her needs.)
- Your mother takes your achievements for granted, but brags about them to her friends.
- Your mother takes your difficulties as indicative of some failing that has nothing to do with her (maybe it’s Daddy’s genes).
- Your mother’s popular or important in public, but she’s controlling and rigid at home.
- Your mother’s angered or makes you feel like a failure if you’re not doing exactly what she wants right away.
- Your mother’s easily offended, claiming that she does so much for you.
- Your mother’s highly opinionated, blasting people, while presenting herself as more forgiving in public.
- Your mother finds fault in you (dad, siblings, etc.). And when you make it right, you barely get an acknowledgment.
- Your mother engenders a need to “walk on eggshells” around her, in order to feel safe.
- Your mother lacks insight about her behavior, and will not tolerate criticism, however mild.
- Your mother fights to win, taking no prisoners, even if she hurts people along the way. It’s kind of desperate and scary.
- Sadly, your mother may have a deficiency in the capacity to feel empathy—with you or anyone close to her.
The Value of Validation
When trying to understand the narcissistic mother, the important word to think about is VALIDATION.
Everyone needs validation in order to feel emotionally secure. Plus, it doesn’t stop with childhood; we need to be validated in our relationships—and at work.
Validation is not false praise; it’s catching you being good at something. Or seeing you for the person you are, or simply feeling like you are important to your mom or dad. Validation is not poisoning a child with saccharine support; when a person is validated, they feel truly appreciated.
Healthy validation sinks in, and transforms to healthy self-esteem.
Narcissistic people have trouble validating others. They are too caught up with needing to be validated themselves. Whether it’s their looks, or money, or position, or career, or their “successful” children, the narcissist mother or father has a huge hole to fill. And their children suffer.
How Children Are Affected
If you have (or had) a mother with narcissistic tendencies, you may be struggling to enjoy the fruits of your adult life. Your career—no matter how great—may not be good enough. Relationships may not do it either. You may have the very hole that mom had, and passed down to you.
She taught you that whatever you have is not enough.
Or, your need for validation may have pigeon-holed you into the role of taking care of the needs of another narcissist. You learned to seek approval from someone who can’t give it to you; so you find yourself in relationships that re-enact your early life experience.
Surviving a Narcissistic Mother
So how do you deal with the consequences of a narcissistic mother? There are no simple rules here. But, with a general awareness of what you’re dealing with, much can be done. Here are a few insights that may be of help.
- Get a consultation with a good therapist. Maternal support is so essential for healthy adult life that it will be of service to get into effective psychotherapy. You will have to objectify the deprivation that you experienced, and see how it plays out in the present moment. This is the first step to change. You may be clinically depressed or anxious and need to overcome a psychological disorder. Once free, it will be easier to deal with your upbringing. Plus, finding a middle ground with your mom after experiencing the emotional pain she has caused will not be a walk in the park. But you may want to come to terms with your mom because you probably love her regardless. It’s not going to be easy.
- Her vanity and egotistical tendencies strain your relationship. As discussed, your mom needs to be the center of attention or all isn’t right in the world. The best you can do is accept your mother for who she is, while keeping her in check—don’t allow her to hurt you or your ego as she satisfies and feeds hers. As long as she expresses her love for you, understand that her vanity is one of those characteristics you can’t do anything about.
- Set good limits and keep hurt to a minimum. Your mother may make you feel like a failure when things aren’t going her way. But remember—that’s her problem, not yours. She may express her rage and dissatisfaction with something and take it out on you by proxy. Simply let her know that what she’s doing isn’t constructive. You can develop ways (often with the help of therapy) to walk away or defuse the situation. It’s better to take charge than to become the passive recipient of hurt.
- Remember your self-worth, because a narcissistic mother will downplay it. You didn’t receive the empathy and validation that you deserved as a child and this has followed you into adulthood. Keep in mind that people with narcissistic tendencies have a deficit with empathy because they’re simply too preoccupied with their own needs.
- Be realistic when dealing with your mom. It will be more difficult for your mother to hurt you if you know what to expect during your encounters. It should be fairly predictable. You’re more than aware of how selfish she can be, so keep this in mind when you continue your relationship with her as an adult. And keep the necessary distance you need in order to keep your conflicts at bay.
- Assure your mother that if she is doing something for you, she will benefit. This is not an entirely honest approach to dealing with your mom, but in some extreme narcissistic cases, you need to serve her with her own dose of manipulation. If you need her help in something, the only way you may see any results is if you successfully spin it to make her appear as the one who benefits. I am hesitant to write this, but it may help some people. This is not sanction to be a manipulator yourself.
- If distancing isn’t your approach, then accepting your narcissistic mother the way she is and letting go of wanting more may work. It isn’t easy cutting your mom out of your life or reducing time together. After all, it isn’t like dealing with a narcissistic partner. And, you may feel a sense of loyalty to her. So, if you can step back, it may be possible to comply with many of your mom’s wishes and not fight with her. This can work if you have truly forgiven her and accept what you’re dealing with. You can be a dutiful son or daughter, even if she fell way short. You are not living under her roof, so going along to get along can work, as long as it doesn’t cause bitterness.
- If your relationship with your mom becomes threatening or toxic, the only way out may be to distance yourself from the relationship. It isn’t healthy continuing an abusive or violent relationship regardless of who it is with. It will hurt to cut ties with your mom, but if therapy can’t mediate it, taking distance and precaution may be the only answer.
- Did your mother taint your dating habits or expectations? Perhaps you haven’t realized it, but have you become a tad vain and egotistical yourself, especially in your love life? Or perhaps you lack trust in those who seek interest in you? Or even worse, you’re in a relationship with a narcissistic partner? Any of these scenarios will decrease your ability to be truly intimate with another person. Awareness and good treatment can open doors.
- Put your foot down and assert your own authority, while challenging hers. It’s pretty apparent narcissists loathe criticism—because everything they do in their world is always right. Well, you are now an adult who can politely inform your mother that her know-it-all, threatening attitude is no longer—and has never been—tolerable. Under certain circumstances, it can be constructive to fight fire with fire. Just know that this can backfire (she may need to win at all costs), so choose your battles carefully.
- Having compassion and pity for your narcissistic mother. Your mother probably needs compassion, pity, and empathy from you, although it may not seem that way. She had her own injuries; maybe a hard life or her own narcissistic parents. Just know that although she has a hard way of showing it, she may still really care about you. Sometimes it’s time to throw her a bone.
Acceptance is Key
It was tough growing up with a narcissistically inclined mother (or father), but it wasn’t impossible. With luck, there were other supportive figures that may have validated you along the way. Dad and your siblings knew exactly what kind of wrath you were dealing with at home, and school or friends may have been a sanctuary that accepted and validated you. Plus, you may have found other outlets through reading, hobbies, art or sports that encouraged you somehow to know that you’re truly capable.
A narcissistic mother is a big obstacle, but you still have a life to live.
Now that you are an adult, the ball is in your court.