Before we go into details about narcissistic parents and narcissistic mothers in particular, it is important to mention that that although terms narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder are often used interchangeably, they aren’t necessary the same thing. Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental illness that has to be diagnosed by a psychiatrist or an adequately trained health professional, and it’s not something to be taken lightly. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterized by
- destructive preoccupation with one’s self,
- unreasonably strong sense of entitlement,
- expectation of superior treatment from other people,
- exaggerated feeling of self-importance,
- unrealistic fantasies of success, beauty and ideal love,
- overwhelming craving for admiration,
- intense envy of others,
- lack of understanding of others’ feelings,
- taking advantage of other people, including one’s own children.
The term “narcissism” can be used as either layman’s term for NPD, or it can be used to describe behaviors somewhat similar to NPD but not yet reaching the level of mental illness. Having said that, both situations can be very damaging for children of narcissistic parents, however in case of simple narcissism (not yet NPD), it isn’t necessarily a rule.
A child growing under care of a narcissistic mother may be deprived of some of the most basic and important emotional needs, such as
- unconditional love,
- healthy encouragement.
In addition, a narcissistic mother may display a range of unhealthy behaviors towards her child including
- being extremely controlling as if the child solely exists to fulfill her wishes and needs,
- making the child feel inadequate or not good enough,
- placing unreasonably high demands on the child,
- subjecting the child to emotional abuse.
Narcissistic mothers typically view their children as extensions of themselves and may speak of maintaining the family image, making the parents proud or blame them for being too weak or otherwise less than perfect.
Being a daughter of a narcissistic mother is particularly challenging. It’s not uncommon for women affected by narcissism to view their daughters as competition and be jealous of them. While a healthy parent wants her children to shine, a narcissistic mother may be jealous of her daughter’s youth, beauty, education, accomplishments and even her relationship with her father. The daughter may be punished for any attention she receives from others or for doing too well. The message sent is very confusing: On the one hand, the daughter is required to do well and make her mother proud. On the other hand, she shouldn’t do too well and outshine her mother. If the daughter is particularly successful, her narcissistic mother may act proud in public but then punish her in private.
Generally, children of narcissistic mothers, be that sons or daughters, fall in one of three categories (source)
- All-good child or golden child. This is the child that the mother expects to serve her grandiose projections. She may tell him he is special and exceptional and treat him like a prince. Although he might be spoiled and indulged, he may still struggle with the weight of his status and unrealistic expectations. Another difficulty golden children may face is that they may have to witness abuse of their siblings or even be forced to participate in it.
- No-good child, also called scapegoat child. No matter how hard they try, no-good children can never do anything right, according to their narcissistic mothers. Because their mothers find them so frustrating, they are often victims of emotional and physical abuse.
- Lost or forgotten child. These children don’t seem to be important to their mothers. They aren’t perceived as a threat, and there aren’t any high hopes for these children. These kids have freedom to keep to themselves and generally avoid conflicts by keeping a low profile. They are the least damaged of the three types, however they still may suffer from emotional abuse and neglect.
In addition, narcissistic mother-in-law is likely to give hard time to her daughter-in-law as well. She might feel particularly jealous of her daughter-in-law if her son is her “golden child”.
Consequences of being raised by a narcissistic mother can be far-reaching. They may include
- feeling not good enough,
- feeling unloved,
- abandonment issues,
- shutting people out,
- neediness and other insecure behaviors,
- inability to form intimate relationships,
- inability to trust other people,
- emotional numbness,
- lack of desire to even try to do anything in life,
- lack of connection with the father,
- narcissistic tendencies, particularly in “golden” children.
Severity of these consequences may range from mild to severe and really depends on the situation. There are many message boards dedicated to the subjects, as well as unofficial support groups in social networks, such as Facebook. Joining these places may be a good option if you simply want to talk to someone or vent your feelings. However, if you are suffering from serious emotional pain as a result of being raised by a narcissistic mother, you will need a professional help. Look for a counselor or, even better, a psychotherapist, in your area or consider this cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) platform to help yourself feel better (includes a private therapist).
Being raised by a narcissistic mother is one of the most painful and damaging experiences one can have in his or her childhood, but being in a romantic relationship with a narcissist or narcissistic sociopath can be heartbreaking regardless of one’s age.
Banner image source: @jcomp, Freepik