Narcissism

3 Ways a Narcissistic Parent Will Violate Your Boundaries

Why and how you might find yourself on the receiving end of boundary violation.

Posted Mar 25, 2020

One of the characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a lack of appropriate boundaries between oneself and others. From a parental perspective, the narcissist may see their child as an extension of themselves and refuse to recognise the separateness of their child.

The following interaction was described to me by a client – a woman in her twenties – whose mother had NPD. The client had just started a new relationship with a man, following the breakup of another long-term relationship and she had recently told her mother about her new boyfriend.

Mother: How many men have you slept with?

Client (embarrassed): I don’t want to say really.

Mother: I’ve slept with four. And your dad, of course. Five. Are you on more, or less?

Client: Er…I just don’t want to say, if that’s alright.

Mother: Oh, that’s typical. I’ve just shared something really personal with you and you won’t share anything with me. It’s always the same. I don’t know why I bother sometimes (Mother leaves, upset). 

Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

In this one very short conversation, the mother has attempted to violate her daughter’s boundaries in three ways.

Asking an inappropriate question

One classic tactic that narcissistic parents use in boundary violation is asking inappropriate questions. Mothers and daughters are not ‘friends’ – they are parent and child – and when it comes to matters of sex and relationships it is perfectly normal for the child to retain information. There is a need for parents to know what a child is engaging in sexually when the child is underage or a younger teenager, but by the time someone is in their twenties, it’s up to them to know about their sex life and to choose whom they want to share information with. For most children, this isn’t going to be their parent. Instead of respecting this boundary, the narcissistic mother pushes it by opening it up as a subject for discussion.

Sharing inappropriate information

The next way in which the interaction displays a narcissistic violation of boundaries is through the sharing of inappropriate information. As well as not wanting to share sexual information about oneself with one’s mother, it’s almost a universal rule that children don’t want to hear about their parents’ sex lives. The narcissistic parent may share inappropriate information about relationships and sex in order to produce what she feels is a ‘close’ relationship, in which the daughter is bound to her in a web of shared intimacies and secrets. The narcissistic mother makes the daughter feel ‘special’ and needed, whilst the mother gains attention. The sharing of inappropriate information with her daughter also creates an expectation – or obligation – that the daughter should do the same with her, which is a very effective tactic in encouraging someone to abandon their own boundaries.

Attention seeking

The final part of the interaction between my client and her mother involves the mother becoming upset and criticising the daughter for making her feel bad. The narcissistic parent thrives on attention and the mother will expect some kind of follow up from her daughter, such as an apology. Narcissism usually stems from a point of fragile self-esteem, and when a narcissistic mother takes her daughter’s reaction as a form of rejection she may feel genuinely, deeply hurt. The mother has played her cards and hasn’t won this particular game, but by acting hurt, she will receive the attention she craves. 

Being on the receiving end of an interaction of this kind can leave you feeling bulldozed and confused. By maintaining her boundaries and refusing to share this information with her mother, my client felt guilty for hurting her mother and did offer the apology that was desired. My client is on the road to recovery and admitted that, a couple of years ago, she would have been pushed into providing the information her mother wanted. Overcoming the effects of growing up with a narcissistic parent requires a commitment to acting in a new way and an acceptance that the narcissist will create drama when you change the way you do act.